The Saskatchwean Roughriders went into last Saturday evening’s game against the Ottawa Redblacks as favourites, to the dismay of longtime Rider fans accustomed to the team losing when they are favoured.
This year’s squad did not fall prey to expectations and decisively won the game 40-18. The game would have been a rout from the middle of the first quarter had not Rider mistakes gave Ottawa repeated opportunities to come back.
The opening quarter established Dominique Davis is not ready to be a starting quarterback. Throwing three interceptions in six passes will mark his 2019 season.
Early this season he had a stellar performance against the Riders when he led the Redblacks to a 44-41 win over the Riders. He was being heralded as a rising star ably replacing Trevor Harris who had signed with the Edmonton Eskimos. During that game he completed several long passes over Rider cornerback Nick Marshall. Most, if not all of the completions, were perfect throws just getting past Marshall.
On Saturday, Marshall was the first Rider to intercept Davis. Between film study and reading the eyes of Davis, he knew where Davis was going to throw the ball.
There was no repeat of the first game completions to receivers Marshall was covering. That game still burned in him. He described it as a fluke and that he proved it this game.
Between telegraphing his throws and missing receivers, Davis had a horrendous evening.
Rider turnovers included a fumble forced and recovered by Charleston Hughes. Showing the benefit of experience, he said, he saw the rusher holding the ball a little loosely and he went for the strip.
On offence the Riders were competent and turnover free but far from dominant.
On what could have been done better, quarterback Cody Fajardo started with himself, acknowledging he missed a couple of throws that would have kept drives going.
Fajardo had a nice 14-yard run for a touchdown after one of the early interceptions. He said he had the option to pitch the ball. He said he did not want to toss the ball late. As he started to roll he saw the end had crashed inside and there was an opening that he ran through for the touchdown.
While I dislike quarterbacks trying to spin back out of the pocket, it worked well for Fajardo late in the game on his touchdown pass to Naaman Roosevelt. Feeling pressure, he spun backwards away from the rusher. He could have run for some yards but, looking downfield, saw Roosevelt following scramble drills coming back for the ball.
I was impressed by the reaction of Fajardo and the receivers to the blitz. Fajardo was throwing quick in routes that repeatedly beat the blitz.
Rider head coach Craig Dickenson said Rider penalties kept the Redblacks in the game. The Riders had 16 penalties for 186 yards and Dickenson said every one of them was deserved.
The most important penalties came after the Riders had intercepted Davis for the third time and had the ball at the Ottawa 11. After the play there were scuffles including at least one punch thrown by Rider corner, L.J. McCray. He was ejected. The Riders had a further objectionable conduct call. The penalties moved the ball 35 yards to the Rider 46. They ended up with a field goal. Had they been at the 11 everyone expected they would have scored their third touchdown.
McCray’s absence meant young Canadian defensive back Elie Bouka, went to the corner. He gave up one long touchdown that probably would not have been scored on McCray. Aside from that play he did well. Dickenson was proud of his play.
Ottawa is in a potential death spiral. They already have three more losses than the Alouettes and an unstable quarterbacking situation.
The Riders and the Blue Bombers go back to back as the two best teams in the West. With Winnipeg in first place, the Riders will not be favoured.