Records coming in: Calgary 3-0, (ranked third overall in the CIS Top Ten Poll); Saskatchewan 2-1, (ranked seventh overall in the CIS Top Ten Poll).
Head to head history: Saskatchewan has 11 regular season wins to Calgary’s 2 since 2001.
What’s on the line: Calgary would love to solidify their hold on first place and distance themselves from their competition. After this weekend, one of two winless teams will have their first win, while one of UBC or Manitoba will move to 3-1. Heading into the second half of the season, the Dinos would prefer to be alone in first place, rather than tied with two other teams and only four points ahead of the fifth-placed team.
The Huskies, on the other hand, would love nothing more than to be tied for first place. Saskatchewan needs this win to rebound from their error-filled loss to Manitoba last week, and don’t want to fall into an extended slump as they did last season. There would be no better confidence boost than to beat the first-place, undefeated, three-time defending Canada West champs in their own back yard.
Key players: The Huskies will be facing the top rushing offence in the Canada West, one which has put up 810 yards through three games. They have been led by third-year running back Steven Lumbala, who has accounted for 424 of those yards. Fifth-year running back Anthony Woodson is second with 157 yards, while former starter Matt Walter, who was drafted by and attended the training camp of the Calgary Stampeders, has only seen seven carries for 69 yards so far this season. The Dino’s passing game has not been as strong, sitting fifth in the conference with 561 yards, while also sitting fifth in attempts (45) and completions (85). Second-year quarterback Eric Dzwileski, the 2010 CIS rookie of the year, sits fourth in the conference with 481 yards, although he is second with five touchdown passes and only one interception. Third-year player Chris Dobko the Dinos leading receiver, with 16 catches for 229 yards and four touchdowns, with three of those touchdowns coming last week against the Regina Rams.
The Dinos offensive success has largely come on the ground this year, but they have yet to come across a defence like the Huskies. Saskatchewan’s run defence has limited teams to only 74.7 rushing yards on average this year, while Calgary’s run defence is ranked second, surrendering an average of 147.7 yards per game. This has been led up front by players such as fourth-year defensive tackle David Rybinski, who had a fumble return touchdown against Manitoba last week. Fourth-year middle linebacker Peter Thiel had a tremendous game against Manitoba and currently sits second on the team with 14.5 tackles, including two for a loss, while fellow linebacker Tony Michalchuk leads the team and sits fifth in the conference with 17.5 tackles. The Huskies pass defence is currently ranked second in the conference with 580 yards surrendered through three games, with fourth-year safety Bryce McCall and third-year halfback Seamus Neary leading the way with nine tackles and an interception each.
While a lot of fuss was made about the losses the Dinos had from their offence from last season, little was made of the veteran talent that left their defence, which included former all-Canadians Andrea Bonaventura at linebacker and Anthony DesLauriers at safety, not to mention starting linebacker Geoff Paiment or defensive tackle Kelly Temple. Although the Dinos had significant holes to fill, they haven’t dropped too far defensively, currently sitting third, surrendering 385.0 yards on average per game. Third-year linebacker Sam Hurl is continuing his stellar play from last season, leading the team with 22 tackles, while first-year linebacker Cory Roboch has 11 tackles and leads the team with three sacks. The secondary has been led by second-year defensive back Mike Edem, a transfer from McGill who has 15.5 tackles, while fifth-year defensive back Mike Lau has 13 tackles and one of the Dinos two interceptions this year.
The Saskatchewan offence struggled against the Bisons last Saturday, failing to sustain any momentum or take advantage of field position. Hopefully moving back to field turf and having a week to correct mistakes will lead to more success in Calgary. First-year running back Dexter Janke is showing he is a dual threat that defences will need to contend with for years to come, leading the Huskies in both rushing (151 yards) and receiving (162 yards). Second-year quarterback Jahlani Gilbert-Knorren sits third in Canada West in total offence with 723 yards, 150 of those rushing and 573 passing. Fifth-year receiver Rory Kohlert is second on the Huskies with 147 yards receiving.
Roster moves: The Dinos have lost starting cornerback Doctor Cassama for the season with a knee injury.
The Huskies have a number of players out with injury. Running back Ben Coakwell is close to returning after missing the Manitoba game, while linebacker Nico Higgs and defensive end Joel Seutter should also be close to returning. Luke Thiel will be out for at least a couple games after injuring his arm against the Bisons, as will receiver Kit Hillis, while offensive tackle Cam Redl remains out with a knee injury.
Kicker Cole Samson will be making his Huskie debut in Calgary.
What They’re Saying: “I’ve heard BT is a pretty intense guy. I’ve seen the games, heard about the rivalry, so I’m excited to be a part of this one.” Dinos linebacker Zach McNeill in the Calgary Herald.
What to expect: I’m not sure what to expect from this game. If the Huskies can move the ball on offence, sustaining drives and scoring two or three touchdowns, they will have a very good chance of taking this game. Keeping the time of possession relatively equal and eliminating the mistakes on defence that cost them the game in Manitoba will be important against the Dinos, who were able to capitalize on an inept Regina offence and put up a lopsided score against the Rams, even though their offensive performance wasn’t spectacular (336 yards total offence and only 170 yards passing).
I don’t feel there will be a blowout, no matter how this games goes, and it will likely be decided well into the fourth quarter. If the Huskies can shut down the powerful Calgary running attack, it will force Calgary to rely on the arm of Dzwilewski, which is good but not as effective as the Dinos running game. A sustained pass rush which keeps Dzwilewski in the pocket and forces him to throw under pressure will be beneficial, especially if they force the Dino’s quarterback to make quick reads to get rid of the ball. Dzwilewski had a lot of success while scrambling last week and is a very good passer while on the run, while his receivers seemed to have trouble shaking the Regina coverage until he started scrambling and buying time.
The Huskies need to find a way to get Gilbert-Knorren out of the pocket before he is scrambling for his life, trying to elude linebackers. The Dinos like to play a lot of man coverage while bringing pressure from their linebackers, trying to overload the line and delivering many looks from their front seven. If the Huskies are able to pick up blitzing players and give JGK time to make reads, he should be able to find two or three open receivers, especially if the Dinos are playing cover zero. The offensive line will need to improve from last week’s performance, and they will have their hands full, especially in the interior of the line, where Josh Symons and Linden Gaydosh will cause havoc, not to mention linebacker Jordan Verdone, who will fill any gaps and take advantage of an otherwise occupied line to penetrate the Huskie offensive backfield.
Even if the Huskies don’t win this game, it will be important for them to keep the score close, as they play Calgary again later in the year. Positioning for playoff games could come down to points for an against as the season ends, and both teams know how important it will be to put distance between eachother on the scoreboard. I wouldn’t blame either team for running up the score even if they have a significant lead late in the game.
I’m confident we’ll see a much improved Huskie team take the field on Friday night, and the mistakes that killed them against Manitoba will be corrected. This is a team that, once all the players are on the same page, will compete with and defeat any team in this conference. Let’s hope they are ready to show the Dinos and Canada West that they are ready to fight and stay at the top of the conference.
Go, Dogs, go!