Heading into the second week of action the Saskatchewan Roughriders may want to thank the schedule-makers for an only-in-the-CFL quirk that pits them against weaker East opponents for their first five contests.
In three interlocking games during the CFL’s opening week the West is undefeated against the East.
That includes Saskatchewan’s 27-19 victory against the reigning Grey Cup-champion Toronto Argonauts, in which Roughriders’ newly-acquired quarterback Zach Collaros conducted a balanced attack and defensive ends Charleston Hughes and Willie Jefferson led a ferocious pass rush.
Next up: Thursday’s road game against the Ottawa Redblacks, the only team that hasn’t yet played a regular-season game. While Ottawa comes off a bye, the Roughriders are in a shortened, six-day “week” with a long road trip that cuts into preparation time. See what we mean about the weird CFL schedule?
It’s not a huge deal. The Roughriders showed they were ready for the Argonauts, although the offence started with back-to-back two-and-outs, replete with no completions and two sacks. Collaros was acquired from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in January to be Saskatchewan’s starter, but having lost his previous 12 starts there was concern about whether he was fully recovered from knee and head injuries.
Collaros ultimately completed 18 of 25 passes for 203 yards and one touchdown, to Namaan Roosevelt, while the Roughriders balanced their usual pass-happy attack with 27 rushing plays. Bruising tailback Jerome Messam softened Toronto’s defence with 21 carries for 72 yards and was especially effective while running out the clock during the fourth quarter. Speedy newcomer Tre Mason, although he fumbled once, added 37 yards on five carries behind a rebuilt offensive line that included two newcomers and hadn’t looked very good during the preseason. It was a pretty good debut for the O-line.
But Saskatchewan’s defence was the reason for this victory. Because Jefferson is among the CFL’s elite players, he regularly draws extra attention from opposing blockers and creates room for his cohorts on the defensive line. From start to finish they were harassing veteran quarterback Ricky Ray. And nobody was more effective than Charleston Hughes, an all-star defensive end acquired in the offseason from the Calgary Stampeders. Hughes recorded his 100th, 101st and 102nd career sacks, plus he pressured Ray four other times, limiting the future Hall of Famer to 233 yards with 22 of 37 completions.
The Argonauts didn’t deploy Ray during the preseason and it looked like he could have used some playing time. Collaros got minimal action in one of Saskatchewan’s exhibition games and seemed further ahead at shaking off any rust. With that analogy, it will be interesting Thursday to see if the Roughriders — after playing a game and having a short transition — will be further ahead than the Redblacks, who haven’t played a real game but have the advantage of more rest.