Saskatchewan’s passive defence submarines rookie QB

FBO CFL Roughriders Argonauts 06092015

Some people can’t believe the Saskatchewan Roughriders are 0-7, their worst start to a CFL season since losing their first 12 games in 1979.

The more amazing number is two.

Two turnovers! Through seven games the Roughriders, whose head coach vowed to make his hand-crafted defence into a more aggressive unit, has forced their opponents to commit two measly turnovers.

Across the province, fans are calling for the firing of head coach Corey Chamblin, who last week received a vote of confidence from general manager Brendan Taman. Chamblin and Taman are signed through 2017, so it’s feasible the community-owned franchise will see if the 2013 Grey Cup-winning duo can build a competitive team heading into next season.

All that despite Chamblin having jettisoned virtually every coach he has worked with since joining the Roughriders in 2012. On his current staff of 14 assistants — the largest in the CFL — Chamblin has retained only special teams co-ordinator Bob Dyce to deploy the strategies envisioned by the head coach.

Chamblin has most desired having an aggressive defence, which he personally oversees, but consider his passive defence is on pace to force a single-digit numbers turnovers this season. The CFL record for turnover futility is 25 forced turnovers.

The Roughriders haven’t recovered an opponent’s fumble!

In the pass-happy CFL, where 74 per cent of the yardage comes through the air, not a single Roughriders defensive back has intercepted a pass. Geoff Tisdale, a veteran DB claimed by Saskatchewan off the Montreal Alouettes’ scrap heap, intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown against the Toronto Argonauts on Friday. Typical of the Roughriders, the play was wiped out by a penalty — one of 24 penalties the CFL’s leading penalty-getters drew during their 30-26 loss in Toronto.

The Roughriders’ lone interception this season came from middle linebacker Jake Doughty — five games ago. The other turnover was a thwarted third-down gamble.

Saskatchewan’s penchant for penalties negated two touchdown catches by Chris Getzlaf and a field goal against the Argonauts. The team is now deploying a third-string quarterback; after injuries sidelined veterans Darian Durant and Kevin Glenn, rookie Brett Smith has taken over the offence, which amazingly has been the league’s most prolific this season.

In his second start, Smith completed 23 of 35 passes for 298 yards with two touchdowns and one interception against the Argonauts. Smith showed amazing toughness, was constantly looking downfield for potential receivers, committed few mistakes, showed improvement from his first start and — displaying a veteran’s poise — was one tipped pass from capping a last-minute touchdown drive that could have given the Roughriders a victory.

The Roughriders were trailing because of fourth-quarter, defensive breakdowns that surrendered a two-play, 98-yard touchdown drive against the Argonauts. Poor Smith, submarined by penalties and a porous defence that won’t give him the football.

Darrell Davis has reported on the Riders for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2006.