The Saskatchewan Roughriders have plenty of excuses for allowing a 32-17 comeback loss to happen against the B.C. Lions in Week 8 at Mosaic Stadium.
A short week with only four days rest for the Riders and a long week for B.C. A banged-up offensive line that has very little continuity and a decimated defensive line still missing sack artists Pete Robertson, A.C. Leonard and bad boy Garrett Marino.
Those are valid crutches the green and white can be forgiven for.
What is unforgivable, however, is their play-caller’s utter failure to get arguably their most dangerous weapon, Jamal Morrow, the football.
A grand total of eight carries was the entire sum of the Roughriders’ commitment to the ground game, not including situations where quarterbacks Cody Fajardo and Mason Fine were scrambling for their lives.
Surely offensive coordinator Jason Maas had some valid reasons for abandoning not only the ground game but Morrow in general. Maybe the ground attack was hitting a brick wall, like in the Riders’ Week 7 loss to Toronto late last week?
Nope. Morrow averaged a robust 5.9 yards per carry. Andrew Harris might still be the best running back in the league, but he doesn’t even come close to that on most nights.
Maybe Maas was afraid of Morrow getting hurt since he didn’t have Frankie Hickson on the roster this week to share the load?
Nah. Shaq Cooper took Hickson’s place and he’s got years of experience carrying the rock under his belt. He has proven that he too can muster up a respectable five-plus yards per carry. It can’t be that.
Perhaps Maas wants to limit Morrow’s workload and put him on a pitch count?
Hmm. Morrow doesn’t return kicks anymore — or at least he hasn’t in three weeks — and it’s not like they used him at receiver a whole bunch either. They only threw to Morrow on four occasions Friday night and predictably he caught all of them.
Again, Morrow made something productive happen each time he touched the football.
So, what gives? Why are the Riders, specifically Maas, ignoring Morrow and the ground game altogether?
I asked head coach Craig Dickenson about this post-game and he admitted it’s a fair question.
“You’re right. Even if you are good up front, it makes a lot of things easier,” Dickenson said.
“We are going to look hard at our team from top to bottom, every position and we’re going to figure out how we can get better. How we can coach better.”
“We’re going to do a self-scout. That’s something that is on my plate this weekend. We’re going to look at everything we’ve called and what’s working, what’s not.”
The criticism of Maas over a lack of ground game isn’t just coming from the fans either.
Wes Cates made a handsome living pounding the rock, blocking and catching in this league and he too was snarling about it on the Rider Radio Roundtable post-game show.
“It seems like Andrew Harris is the only back in this league who gets any meaningful amount of touches anymore,” Cates said.
Logan Ferland is usually at guard but made his first start of the season at centre in the loss. He’s the second guy who’s tried to replace the clearly irreplaceable Dan Clark, who’s been out due to injury since Week 2.
Ferland’s been thrown into the fire as much as anyone on this much-maligned offensive line that coughed up another four quarterback sacks. While not questioning the play calls, he did agree that run plays help an o-line in need.
“100 percent,” Ferland said. “I mean we never want to see Cody having to run out of the pocket, scoot and boot. We’d rather see the run game as an o-line, it’s just a lot more fun. Just imposing your will.”
During this three-game losing skid, the Riders haven’t been imposing their will on anyone. And the worst part is on Friday night they really didn’t even try.