There’s good news and bad news in Riderville these days.
The good news is that the longest September in franchise history is over.
The bad news is that the turmoil and uncertainty which engulfed this team a year ago has not only returned but has been ratcheted up to a new high.
Following Friday’s 33-26 loss to the B.C. Lions, a score which flattered the visitors from Saskatchewan, the green and white are now 6-9 and can finish with a record of no better than .500 on the season.
Over the past two seasons, the Riders have lost eight of the nine games they’ve played in the month of September. How can the organization justify bringing back general manager Jeremy O’Day and head coach Craig Dickenson if the sputtering continues and the team misses the playoffs for a second straight year?
It’s something not lost on the head coach, who addressed the issue head-on during his post-game media conference Friday night from within the bowels of BC Place.
“Ultimately, it all falls on me,” Dickenson said when asked by CJME’s Britton Gray how much of the team’s basic mistakes during this four-game losing skid are his responsibility.
“If our team is not prepared and is not executing, that falls on me as the head coach so you can point the finger at me, and I’ll take it. I’ve got to do a better job of preparing the team.”
The coach sounds like a man defeated and for good reason. Since this squad turned the whole country on with back-to-back wins over B.C. and Winnipeg, two of the nation’s big three powerhouses, it’s not only been four straight losses but four straight meltdowns.
Losing by 45 in the Banjo Bowl was bad but no reasonable human being alive expected the Roughriders to win that game.
But then to lose at home to the Elks and, gulp, Chris Jones?!
Did we mention the running attack that galloped and left Elk hoofprints all over Mosaic Stadium was largely crafted from the efforts of Edmonton offensive line coach Stephen Sorrells? The same Stephen Sorrells who took the bullet for last year’s weekly Cody Fajardo sack montages. Sorrells was seen grinning like a Cheshire cat that night.
Then for the Riders to drop one in Ottawa on the same field where the 4-11 Redblacks couldn’t beat Cody Fajardo over the weekend was all but unforgivable.
To top it all off, the Roughriders were torched by Vernon Adams Jr. for over 450 yards passing, again.
The record as of late has been putrid and, in one way or another, so has the running game. For the first time through this losing skid, the Rider defence managed to avoid giving up more than 192 yards along the ground. That would be great if it weren’t for the fact that Kelly Jeffrey’s offence couldn’t muster any better than 38 yards of a running attack of its own.
Like the previous week in Ottawa, the Roughriders were getting blown out until the final two minutes when they managed to use prevent defences and what football people like to call “garbage time” to make the score look more respectable. Saskatchewan trailed 36-12 and 38-11 until the final two minutes against the Redblacks and Lions, respectively.
In either case, Rider fans were expected to tune in for 58 minutes of a ballgame where their team couldn’t muster up so much as 13 points of offence. That won’t get it done in any football league, just like it won’t cut it in our beloved three-down game.
As bad as the losing has been, it’s not the record that is turning people away so much as it’s been the way this team is losing. Something is amiss and for whatever reason, they’ve lost their mojo.
The Roughriders have been manhandled in the run game on both sides of the football throughout this second straight autumn freefall. Injuries can be blamed to an extent but every team is battling injuries at this time of year.
The coach says he and his staff and his players are in this together, needing to win “two of the next three” to solidify a playoff spot. That’s not totally accurate, as a win in Calgary on October 13 alone should be enough to take care of business — unless anyone dares to dream of the Ottawa Redblacks running the table to sweep their final three games and steal the crossover playoff berth.
Both Dickenson and general manager Jeremy O’Day entered this season in the final year of their contracts and it’s been widely understood that something better than last year’s 6-12 stink bomb and playoff miss would be needed to bring everyone back for 2024.
The season started well enough at 3-1 and even back-to-back wins over good teams with the new quarterback, Jake Dolegala, gave optimism that this year truly would be different.
But over these last four weeks, it’s been the same song, second verse for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Jeremy O’Day didn’t want to discuss his contract situation this week and given the awkwardness of that discussion, he can be forgiven. But he did suggest that effort has not been a problem within the team. That might be perceived by some of us as an admission that his personnel staff haven’t supplied the horses needed to get this thing right.
It’s an eerie and sometimes sad reality that nice guys and mediocrity don’t cut it in pro football the way they do in the corporate world. It’s something Craig Dickenson sounds like he’s bracing himself for.
“Ultimately, at the end of the day, it falls on me,” he said.
“And if we don’t do well this year, I’m sure there’ll be some consequences for that and that’s just what you sign up for when you become a coach, so I understand.”
We’ve seen sicker dogs than this one get better, but not many.