Kevin Glenn and the surging Saskatchewan Roughriders are about to be put to the test.
The Roughriders have been on a recent upswing, winning four of their last five games, and recently topped last year’s win-loss record. But if the Riders are to prove their gains are more than just incremental, they face the essential test against the Calgary Stampeders.
Glenn is back under centre for Saskatchewan (6-5) after missing last weekend’s 27-19 road win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats with a hand injury, the victory that gave the Riders a better record than last season. He’ll look to carry the Riders’ momentum into Sunday’s home game against the Stampeders (10-1-1) – the team to beat in the CFL.
The Stamps are riding an eight-game winning streak, including a defensive pummelling of B.C. last week and back-to-back wins against the once-top-ranked Edmonton Eskimos prior to that.
Calgary ranks first or second in the CFL in most offensive categories, including points for, offensive points, touchdowns, rushing touchdowns and average yards per play.
The Stamps are also ranked first in fewest turnovers (11).
That’s one stat that Roughriders defensive back Ed Gainey will look to change, come Sunday. The five-year CFL regular leads his team and the league with eight interceptions, all of which he has nabbed during his team’s recent resurgence.
“I want us to make sure that we come out as a group and a (defensive) unit and show the league and Calgary that we’re a contender,” he said.
Gainey says that means “not chasing ghosts,” meaning not making the Stamps bigger than what they are.
“Calgary’s a good team, but they can be beaten. And I’m just coming from a mindset of that,” he said. “It’s just a matter of us gaining our spots and playing our responsibilities and letting the game come to us, and not over-analyzing or over-thinking.”
Sunday’s game is the second of three contests between the Riders and Stamps this year.
Calgary beat Saskatchewan 27-10 on July 22. The Stamps were up 17-0 by halftime, tallying five sacks of Glenn.
The Roughriders’ lone interception that game was a serendipitous bounce out of linebacker Henoc Muamba’s hands into those of now-benched Sam Williams.
The Riders, and especially their secondary, have been playing with an added boost of confidence over their last five games, seemingly bearing little resemblance to the starting rotation from July.
Gainey chalks it up to the defensive backs spending more time together on and off the field, whether it’s in the film room or away from football altogether.
“Right before each game, just to get out and get outside of the football atmosphere, and just get to know each other as brothers and teammates,” he said.
And he and his teammates are now making hawkish plays on the ball, instead of waiting for lucky bounces, something that Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell noted this week at practice in Calgary.
“They’re definitely one of the best in the league at finding the football and creating turnovers,” he told reporters on Wednesday, making note of Gainey, too.
“He is a product of what obviously that entire defence is, he’s not one of the guys you say ‘he can play (defensive back) because he can’t catch,”’ Mitchell said. “The guy can make plays on the football and he does a good job of it.”
If Mitchell is to avoid upping his interception count this year – currently at eight, matching his 2016 total – the best way to do so “is just understanding what they’re doing and what they’re trying to do to you,” without worrying about every single defensive look he might face.