The storm cloud that hovered over the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ 2022 season appears to have returned to Regina.
Following Friday’s 36-28 loss in Ottawa, the Roughriders, now 6-8, are reeling from three straight defeats, widening a canyon of doubt that always existed within the team’s fanbase.
In fact, the Roughriders’ record and losing streak mirrors exactly where the team sat through 14 games one year ago. That team ended up folding like a cheap suit and lost the rest of their games to finish 6-12 and miss the playoffs.
Head coach Craig Dickenson swears this is not the same team.
“It’s a different vibe this year,” Dickenson said. “We may have the same record but I feel like we’ve got better dudes in that locker room.”
The coach didn’t name any names but a quick depth-chart comparison reminds us that it was Kooper Richardson, Josiah St. John, Andrew Lauderdale, Justin McInnis, Cody Fajardo, Alex Tuck, Kyran Moore and Shaq Evans who all started on offence this time last year. They have since been replaced by Brandon Council, Philip Blake, Eric Lofton, Jerreth Sterns, Jake Dolegala, Albert Awachie, Tevin Jones and Shawn Bane Jr.
The defence who participated in last year’s meltdown included A.C. Leonard, Darnell Sankey and Mike Edem as starters. They have since departed in favour of the likes of Micah Johnson, Christian Albright, C.J. Reavis, and Trumaine Washington.
It should be noted that Fajardo, Tuck and Sankey are now all on the Montreal Alouettes, a squad that just improved to 7-7 and now boasts a better win-loss record than the Riders.
That list doesn’t include the backups, special teams players, or offensive assistant coaches who have been replaced, but you get the picture. The coach thinks this is a group he can win with, while last year’s team was not and had some bad apples.
Linebacker Micah Teitz was singing a similar tune Friday night after losing to the Redblacks.
“There’s no pointing fingers. We’re not a team that does that anymore,” Teitz said. “You’ve got to look yourself in the mirror, myself included, see what we’ve got to do to get better and then do it. We killed ourselves with penalties.”
“People are angry at themselves more than anything and I think that’s the way it should be.”
Coach Dickenson sounded like someone angry at himself and his own staff.
“We, as coaches, have got to find ways now to get it out of them because that’s not good enough to go and get beat these last two weeks by teams that we feel like we should beat,” Dickenson said. “The games just get harder from here on in.”
Those teams, Edmonton and Ottawa, both hit the Riders’ run defence hard along the ground for 265 and 193 yards, respectively. It has exposed a unit that has now surrendered 721 yards rushing during the three-game losing skid.
So how will Micah Teitz respond to Joe Blow in the grocery store this week who thinks this year’s edition of the green and white is headed for the same scary crash landing as the one a year ago?
“We have what it takes,” Teitz said. “We’ve beaten the best. When we’re on our game, we’re on our game and we still are confident in ourselves when we’re doing that.”
“When we’re on, we’re on, but we haven’t been on recently so we have to get back to that.”
The storylines in each of the losses have been different. A revenge game with the best team of the decade in Winnipeg, facing the hottest new quarterback against Edmonton, and committing five turnovers in Ottawa. But one consistent theme has emerged through it all.
Just as they did last year, the Roughriders are having a miserable September.
Aside from having an exciting young quarterback with lots of upside, the biggest fountain of hope for Rider Nation might be the regression of the Calgary Stampeders, who are now 4-10 after losing to Montreal and two wins behind Saskatchewan for third place in the West. That sets up what is likely to be a gargantuan showdown in three weeks when the Riders visit the Stamps.
The magic number of Saskatchewan wins combined with Calgary losses needed to clinch third place is down to three. The same magic number of Saskatchewan wins and Edmonton losses is down to one. It’s a scenario last year’s Roughriders would’ve dreamt of.
On the same day that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy showed up in Ottawa to put a brave face on the war with Russia, Craig Dickenson did the same down the street on the worrisome nature of his Roughriders season, assuring everyone this isn’t history repeating itself. This October and November will have a different ending from the last.
“My message to Rider Nation is ‘Stick with us!’,” Dickenson said.
“Patience and process and we’re going to work extremely hard these next five weeks and put the best team we can out there and hopefully we get hot at the end. I still believe in them but we’ve got a lot of work to do and there needs to be a lot of action and less words. More action and less talk.”