There’s no quarterback controversy in Regina but if the Riders continue to struggle moving the football the way they did in September, there probably should be.
Jake Dolegala captured the hearts and minds of Rider Nation with back-to-back wins over the B.C. Lions and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, effectively rescuing the hopes for everyone on the prairies that maybe, just maybe this team would still contend for a Grey Cup despite franchise quarterback Trevor Harris being out with a tibial plateau fracture.
It all seemed almost too good to be true and four weeks and four losses later, we’re learning that it probably was.
Where exactly did it all go wrong? It’s hard to say but there are a few things to point out.
No one expected Jake the Giant to have an encore Labour Day performance in the Banjo Bowl and he didn’t. The team scored a couple of first-half field goals and nothing more, which was completely forgivable given the hostile environment.
The same is true for Saskatchewan’s home loss to Edmonton, a team that’s been hot since handing the reigns over to Tre Ford. Dolegala nor the offence around him was to blame on a night the defence couldn’t hold Edmonton’s rushing attack to under 265 yards. When that happens, it’s hard to blame the quarterback who put up 27 points.
But that’s where the mulligans end for this signal-caller who seems to be enjoying a longer-than-usual honeymoon, even for a backup quarterback who is always the most popular guy in Saskatchewan.
Jake Dolegala was very much culpable in the third straight loss in Ottawa. The Redblacks are a totally beatable team and Dolegala made more mistakes than anyone, accounting for four of Saskatchewan’s five turnovers on the night with two fumbles and two interceptions.
Turnovers are going to happen and you can accept them as part of the growing pains that come with a young quarterback, especially one with the upside of the six-foot-seven passer. That is unless your passing game can’t muster up any better than 208 yards through the first 58 minutes.
Head coach Craig Dickenson wants to see his team move the ball more effectively through the air early in the game, recognizing that some of Saskatchewan late production is merely a byproduct of opposing defences playing it safe.
“I do believe production late when you’re trailing is different than production throughout the game because they were going to play off,” he said. “They’re going to give you those underneath throws and it’s easier, let’s be honest. It’s just easier. We’ve got to do a better job of playing well early so we don’t have to turn it on late and that’s something we’re going to look closely at on the film and try to find a way to do that.”
The Riders were a slump-buster for Ottawa, a squad that had lost seven in a row and is almost certain to miss the playoffs with a first-year starting quarterback of their own.
Saskatchewan’s loss in Vancouver happened under the same dome where the hapless Redblacks very nearly beat the Lions a couple of weeks earlier. Sure, it came against a Leos group that might win the West Division, but the lack of fight was still deflating and Dolegala took no satisfaction in losing to the same Vernon Adams Jr. he beat six weeks earlier in what feels like an eternity ago.
“My job is to score one more point than them,” Dolegala said. “We’ve got to be able to match that and do one better. We didn’t do that.”
“We’ve just got to get better. It’s frustrating when you’re that close because we know we can beat this team. We know we can hang with this team.”
“We can’t keep doing this too little-too late B.S. nonsense. It’s getting old.”
Nearly half of Dolegala’s 409 passing yards came in the mid-to-late stages of the fourth quarter at BC Place, taking advantage of a Lions’ defence nursing a big lead with soft zone coverage. The passing yardage piled up through the first 50 minutes against a normal defence amounted to a not nearly as impressive 216 yards.
That might even be enough to win in today’s dink-and-dunk CFL except the running game couldn’t do much either, tapping out at 38 yards. Running back Jamal Morrow was missing in action due to injury and it showed.
Even so, the quarterback missed enough throws to open receivers when he had time to throw the football that he, too, must eat this one and he has.
Public opinion has so far appeared to back Saskatchewan’s new quarterback as we’re still not hearing much clamouring for Mason Fine. This could also indicate that the fan base sees the Riders’ recent struggles as a problem deeper than whoever starts at quarterback.
That could be so but if the Riders once again fail to rise above the bar set so incredibly low by last year’s 2-11 finish to the season, then it’s only a matter of time before the fan base will turn on this quarterback, too.