A game like that has been a long time coming for Rider Nation. The Riders have now won four games in a row thanks to their 29-11 dismantling of the Toronto Argonauts at BMO Field on Saturday afternoon.
When all was said and done, that score probably still flattered the Argos as it was all Green and White through three quarters before head coach Chris Jones decided to take some of his starters out of the game to give some other guys a chance to see some reps in a regular season game as the Riders had a 29-0 lead. It’s seemed like forever since the Riders were on the good side of garbage time, which isn’t too surprising considering how few games they’ve won between the Banjo Bowl in 2014 and that same game this year. You have to go back to week six against the Ottawa Redblacks in 2014, a game the Riders won 38-14, that was probably the last time this team held a lead late in the game that allowed them to give some players a break. They sure had their share of deficits in garbage time.
Early on, it looked like the Riders defence was again going to have to carry the load as it wasn’t all pretty all day. The new look offensive line without Xavier Fulton definitely struggled with pass protection early with Darian Durant under siege at times. Eventually, the group settled in, thanks in part to a ground game we haven’t seen in a long time in Saskatchewan (more on that in a bit), and the rout was on.
In the grand scheme of this season, a blowout win on the road doesn’t really matter. They’re still going to miss the playoffs for the second straight year. That being said, this win is another sign that the Riders have come out of the wilderness and better times are ahead. Wins are also important for this team right now as Jones tries to establish a winning culture in Saskatchewan, you can’t do that without picking up some “w’s.”
There’s no question who the player of this game was. In his debut with the Green and White, Joe McKnight had himself a day rushing for 150 yards on 17 carries in basically just three quarters of work. This was hands down the best the Riders running game has looked since Jerome Messam suited up for the team last season. It’s probably also the best day on the ground the team has had with Chris Best on the injured list, the veteran’s absence has often dragged the running game down with him. It’s just one game, so we can’t tell if McKnight will be a regular contributor but it was certainty a promising sign for a team that has struggled to run the ball at times this year. It was the run game that kept the offence on the field early in before Durant found his bearings after a bit of a slow start. Letting the new offensive line tee off in run block probably helped them get in the game too.
Linebacker Henoc Muamba made his defensive debut in this one and didn’t look out of place at all. The Canadian played a special teams role last week and was flagged a couple of times. Muamba made his presence felt with one forced fumble and one sack. He added another three defensive tackles and three special teams tackles for good measure. Muamba could the be the missing piece on defence that will allow the Riders to comfortably start seven players and possibly even eight if they can find the guy to play defensive tackle. The more starting Canadians you have, the better.
That was the best effort I’ve seen from a Riders defence since the unit carried the team for much of 2014. Just how much of that had to do with how bad the Argos are, we don’t know, but you can only beat the team lined up in front of you. The pressure is finally starting to get to the quarterback, the secondary isn’t giving up the big play anymore, and missed tackles have been kept to a minimum. Even Tevaughn Campbell who struggled early in the year made some plays. It was a pretty balanced effort on defence too as no player had more than four tackles.
Joe Craig has definitely locked up his job as return man heading into training camp next year. Craig, who had a big game last week against Ottawa, wasn’t as consistent in his returns but returned one 71 yards to the house. That play seemingly changed the game as after the point after, it gave the Riders a 20-0 lead. The old saying is that special teams is part attitude, and the Argos lacked the attitude needed to win on that play.
You think Ricky Collins Jr. was watching as teammates Caleb Holley and Armanti Edwards had big games while he sat on the injured list? In his return to the line up, Collins. had seven catches for 113 yards including a highlight reel one handed snag that was nearly a touchdown. Competition either brings out the best in a player or causes someone to shutdown. I think we know what it does for Collins.