Craig Dickenson motivated by Touchdown Atlantic’s wide point spread, but doesn’t believe Riders ‘respond well’ to underdog talk

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders

The Saskatchewan Roughriders are point underdogs heading into their Touchdown Atlantic match-up with the Toronto Argonauts, but head coach Craig Dickenson is wary of bringing that up with his team.

“It just depends on the makeup of your team. I don’t think our team responds well to necessarily that sort of motivation,” Dickenson told the media on Friday.

“I did talk a little bit about how good Toronto was and how good they are in specific areas, that we need to try to take away some of those strengths. But I didn’t get into the point spread or that they’re heavy favourites.”

Toronto is the CFL’s only undefeated team through seven weeks, boasting a spotless 5-0 record thanks to the stellar play of M.O.P. frontrunner Chad Kelly. They arrive in Halifax fresh off a 31-15 dismantling of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last week and currently sit first in the CFL in points per game (37.2), net offence per game (401.4), and turnover differential (+13).

Meanwhile, the Riders fell to 3-3 following their Week 7 loss to the B.C. Lions, a game in which they failed to score a touchdown. While they sit middle of the pack in most statistical categories, the team is now led by the inexperienced Mason Fine following the loss of veteran quarterback Trevor Harris to a tibial plateau fracture two weeks ago.

A conservative offence caused Saskatchewan to lose by 10 points in Vancouver and despite a number of key returning players, oddsmakers believe there could be more heartache in store after making the long trek to the Maritimes. That will not go on the team’s bulletin board, however, even if Dickenson personally draws inspiration from the sleight.

“It’s motivating to me, for sure. I grew up with a coach who was always pumping the other guys. But I’ve learned to kind of mix and match that with the pro athletes because you want to make sure that your team’s confident,” he explained.

“Sometimes overemphasizing what they do takes away from your ability to prepare your own team. They know that we’re the underdogs but I don’t think it’s fazing them.”

Saskatchewan is in somewhat familiar territory, having met the Argonauts in Nova Scotia for last season’s Touchdown Atlantic clash as well. However, the roles were reversed ahead of that game, when the 4-1 Riders were favoured as the league’s hottest team and Toronto sat at 1-2.

Dickenson’s team was on track to win that game as expected until a late surge from the Double Blue, with linebacker Wynton McManis sealing their fate with a late pick-six. The 30-24 loss proved to be a turning point in the Riders’ season, as the team won just two more games the rest of the year and failed to make the playoffs. The Argonauts would go on to win the Grey Cup at Mosaic Stadium in Regina.

With much less to lose this time around, the coach’s avoidance of underdog talk doesn’t come from a place of naivety. Rider players are well aware that the odds are stacked against them, they simply choose to focus elsewhere.

“Our guys know that, our guys read social media. They realize Toronto’s a heavy favourite,” Dickenson insisted. “But we feel like we’ve got a good team and we’ve got a good chance to beat them.”

The Riders (3-3) and Argos (5-0) are scheduled to kick off at 4:00 p.m. EDT on Saturday, July 29 at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.