‘This week is going to be a character week for us’: Riders view backend of home-and-home with Alouettes as key test

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders/Electric Umbrella/Liam Richards

The Saskatchewan Roughriders were unable to match the intensity of the Alouettes in their Week 3 loss 37-13 in Montreal, recording their first defeat of the season.

The Alouettes set a dominating tone on the first play of the game when returner Chandler Worthy took the opening kick-off back 88 yards for a touchdown. The Green and White trailed Montreal for the remainder of the game, unable to show the same energy as the Als on either side of the ball. 

“It started off bad right from the get-go,” said Riders head coach Craig Dickenson after the game. “I thought we’d bounce back and play a little better but we just got man-handled start to finish — offence, defence, special teams.”

There were a few variables working against the Riders this week. Back-to-back away games and a short week were the obvious ones, but the absence of centre Dan Clark was also significant. Canadian rookie Logan Bandy had big shoes to fill in his first CFL start and only had one practice to prepare. 

Those factors aside, Dickenson doesn’t believe the team “got out of the blocks” or were physical enough. The Alouettes were more “hungry” for the win, considering the team was 0-2 before their home-opener.

Ahead of the Week 3 game, the Riders’ defence was getting some serious hype about what they could do on Thursday night, but it was Montreal’s defence who shone brighter. The Alouettes finished the game with eight sacks, three interceptions, and one touchdown. 

Cody Fajardo did not throw a touchdown pass, as the Riders quarterback completed 17-of-28 pass attempts and was intercepted twice. He tried to get his offence going but looked tense and under pressure in many instances throughout the game. 

During the first quarter, Fajardo threw the ball at the feet of running back Jamal Morrow to avoid a hit, but couldn’t avoid the bodies of Alouettes’ defenders on many snaps. Fajardo was sacked seven times throughout the game and he was unable to be productive on the ground, carrying the ball four times for 13 yards.

“We got a brand new centre and it’s his first start. We practiced once and so we didn’t do him any justice by helping him out. We just kind of threw him to the fire,” said Fajardo post-game. 

“That’s a really good front seven in Montreal and we knew it was going to be challenging but we’ll be much better getting actual full practices and reps as a full unit.”

The Riders pulled Fajardo in the middle of the fourth quarter and replaced him with backup Mason Fine. With the team trailing by a significant margin, it wasn’t a bad idea to give Fine some reps and Fajardo some rest after the starter got a little banged up in Week 2 and needed to wear a knee brace during Thursday’s game. 

Fine was sacked once, but threw the only touchdown of the game to receiver Duke Williams. Williams ended the game with four receptions for 101 yards, one grab was a 35-yard long ball from Fajardo and another was a 45-yard touchdown connection with Fine. It was positive for the Riders to see the six-foot-three, 225-pound pass catcher in action after he missed Week 2 with an ankle injury. 

The same couldn’t be said for receiver Shaq Evans, however, who left the game with an ankle injury after his first reception of the game.

On another note, the Riders high penalty rate only improved slightly from last week. The Riders were flagged 11 times for 106 yards compared to 14 penalties for 134 yards in Week 2.

“We can’t stop shooting ourselves in the foot sometimes,” said Dickenson. “A lot of them were just undisciplined again. Guys on the defensive line, especially, jumping offside when all they’ve got to do is key the football. We had a couple of [unnecessary roughness penalties] that we’ll try to address but, when it rains, it pours and it was a tough day. A tough day all the way around.”

The Riders have over a week to prepare for the rematch against the Alouettes in Week 4 at home and both Dickenson and Williams are optimistic the team will bounce back. 

“I think this week is going to be a character week for us,” said Dickenson. “See how hard we work, see how hard we study, see what the attitude is this week because we play the same team, that’s a good thing so they don’t have to look too far.”

“I think it’s gonna be a good week for us as coaches to evaluate ourselves and what we’re doing and then evaluate the effort level of the players. I think the players will come back strong.”

“You know every dog has his day, I’m just glad it happened early in the season so we can make corrections and get better,” said Duke Williams. “Next week they will come to our house and I know it won’t be the same.”