Yesterday’s Canada West semi-final in Vancouver between the Huskies and the UBC Thunderbirds played out like a microcosm of the entire season.
The Huskies started out well and looked like they would be hard to beat, but inconsistency at quarterback and ill-timed turnovers kept the opponent in the game. The Thunderbirds were able to stay close and put together scoring drives in the second half that stood up in spite of a late Huskie rally. The Huskies were close, but not close enough.
In spite of coming into the game relatively healthy, aside from explosive returner and receiver Jerit Lambert, the Huskies couldn’t get over their lack of experience at quarterback, showing how crucial having a veteran signal-caller is in the Canada West. The offence played well, generating 336 yards passing and 143 yards along the ground, but four interceptions and a fumble was too much to overcome.
The Huskies, who came into the game converting 90.6 percent of their trips into the opponent’s red-zone during the season, were only three-for-five on the day. Had they even come away with field goals on the two drives that ended in interceptions, it would have been enough to overcome the five point deficit. But it was not to be on this day, as a determined UBC team too the lead and kept it.
Offensively, the Huskies had several excellent performances on the day, with Ben Coakwell running for 98 yards and receivers Jeff Moore, Garrett Bolen and Garrett Burgess each turning four and five yard gains into first downs numerous times. In fact, the receivers had their best game of the season, breaking tackles and getting open in tight coverage. The time of possession was nearly even and each team had 24 first downs.
The Thunderbirds explosive offence was held in check for the first half, with three two-and-outs and two drives over six plays. The Huskie defence came in wanting to get pressure on quarterback Billy Greene, but wasn’t able to reach the elusive quarterback. However, they did all they could to limit the damage and gave up few big plays, giving the team many opportunities to take control of the game.
All-in-all, after losing as much veteran, game-breaking talent on the offensive side of the ball as they did after last season, finishing 5-3 and coming close to pulling off an upset on the road in the playoffs should not be too surprising or disappointing. Of course, Huskie fans would like to see the team win every season, but in reality, they will have to rebuild, from time to time. Certainly, this year’s end result can not be seen as disappointing as those of the 2008, 2009 and 2010 seasons.
The Huskies now turn to recruiting, and they have a few positions to fill. On offence, they will be focusing on the offensive line, since they will be likely be losing Ben Heenan to the CFL and will be losing veterans Darren Hinds and Brandon Myre to graduation. With Coakwell graduating, they will also be looking for a couple game-breaking running backs to join Dexter Janke in the backfield, especially as they have been playing shorthanded all season after the pre-training camp departure of Jeff Hassler. The receiving corps lose Rory Kohlert and Shayne Dueck to graduation, and will surely bring in a couple new players, but they are a unit with good depth that will surely improve next year as players like Christian Gottenbos are worked in.
On defence, the Huskies will need to concentrate on recruiting for the secondary, with Bryce McCall getting a lot of CFL interest in his draft year, and on the defensive line, as both David Rybinski and Steve Kovach will be entering their fifth years, while Zach Hart and Joel Seutter, who will be going into their fourth years, are also getting CFL interest and may not make it to their fifth years. The linebacking corps, which lose fifth-years Tony Michalchuk, Nico Higgs and Tommy Lynch, have excellent depth. Although they will always be looking for another impact player or two, they will likely look first to their current roster to fill the holes, with players like Charlie Power, Brodie Rothe, Dane Bishop, Jaques Geyer and Thomas Hilderman all expected to make a push for playing time.
They will also have some tough decisions to make in two notable areas. Who will be the kicker of the future? Will one of the three kickers on the roster take the initiative and become the guy, or will a new recruit come in be the consistent performer the team was looking for all season? And at quarterback, who will they move forward with as their starter next year? Both Trent Peterson and Jahlani Gilbert-Knorren have had flashes of brilliance and both have struggled. The Huskies have to decide which of these quarterbacks has more potential and who will be a better fit for their system. To compound their tough decision, they also have 2011 top recruit Drew Burko coming up, and he will surely be looking for playing time after red-shirting this season.
The Huskies have a big recruiting year coming up. They know they need to bring in impact players ready to play in all three phases of the game if they want compete with the veteran-laden teams like Calgary, Regina and UBC next year. With the core of this team as talented and deep as it is, they are only three or four players away from being national contenders, once again, and if recruits want to play and win, there isn’t a better place to come than the University of Saskatchewan.