Friday, August 31, 7:00 p.m.
Broadcast available at www.ck750.com (pregame show at 6:30 p.m.).
Records in 2011: Huskies: 5-3, second in Canada West (ranked eighth in the initial FRC-CIS Football Top Ten of 2012); Alberta: 2-6, sixth in the Canada West.
Head to head history: The Huskies have 13 wins to Alberta’s 3 since 2002. They each have two wins in four playoff games.
What’s on the line: You wouldn’t think it much would be on the line this early in the season. However, this game could have a big impact on the final standings, especially for the Huskies.
It looks like the Huskies have a favourable schedule as they only play the consensus 2012 conference favourites, the Calgary Dinos and Regina Rams, once each. However, following this week, they are on the road for two games, going from end-to-end in the conference with a trip to Manitoba followed by a trip to UBC. They follow that up with games against Regina at home and Calgary on the road. Because of the time they will spend on the road and the parity in the conference, it will be vital that they take advantage of their opportunities and win at home against the weakest team in the league.
Alberta will want to show that they are not the weakest team in the league and that they can’t be taken advantage of, especially after their last regular season game, in which a struggling Huskies offence put up 67 points in a 67-3 drubbing. At the very least, they will want to prove that they are a far better than a team that lost by 64 points. Of course, they will be coming in looking for a win, which would make things very difficult on the Huskies with four big games coming up after week one.
Key match up: It will be interesting to see how the Huskies react to the pressure from the Bears front seven. The Bears boast the top linebacking unit in the Canada West, with four fast and physical players who aren’t afraid to blitz and take chances. They will be bolstered by the presence of nose tackle Steven Giang, who is back for a third tour of duty with the Bears after finally saying goodbye to the Edmonton Wildcats.
Expect a lot of pressure on the offensive line and Burko, with the Bears overloading the line and blitzing early and often, with a halfback or safety blitz thrown in, especially on second and long situations. This will test out the offensive line, but more so the ability of the running back or tight end to pick up the blitzing players and give Burko time to spot receivers and throw the ball. This will open up receivers down field and open up the possibility of screen passes, if Burko has enough time.
Roster moves: Linebacker Seamus Neary and receivers Jeff Moore and Mitch Stevens may be back after sitting out last week’s game, but will likely be gametime decisions. Running backs Dexter Janke and Shane Buchanan will be out, as will linebackers Thomas Hilderman and Corbin Eskelson. Both Buchanan and Eskelson are expected back next week. Wide receiver Garrett Burgess is out for four-to-six weeks.
What they’re saying: “Alberta’s a little bit of an unknown. They have about nine guys back on defence, so they have some guys who have played a little bit there. I expect them to be tough. They have four veteran linebackers but we don’t know where they’re at with their defensive line, as they lost some guys there.
“Offensively, they have a couple veteran receivers who are skilled, for sure. They have a couple good running backs and a quarterback with a strong arm. What we don’t know is where they are on the line of scrimmage. I know they’ve graduated some kids, and from what we can tell from their roster, they have only about two kids that played against us last year.
“They came in here and played us tough for three quarters last year, and I expect them to be ready. This is the time of year when they’re excited to play, when nothing’s exposed and everyone’s 0-0. We have to come out and earn this game and we have to be much better than we were last Friday. I think we will be, and I’m sure we’ll be more intense.” – Huskies Head Coach Brian Towriss on facing the Bears to open the season.
What to expect: Expect something that resembles the opposite of the offensive explosion we saw the last time these teams met. This should be a defensive battle with two experienced and talented defences testing the limits of and exposing the vulnerabilities in inexperienced offensive units.
This will be an excellent test for the Huskies to open the season with. In spite of the Bears losing their all-star safety Jason Heatherington, who spent the last four years as Bryce McCall’s runner up as the best safety in the conference, the defence looks strong, especially when defensive backs Cody Hillhouse, Cole Bishop, and 2011 junior all-Canadian Brennan Von Nistelrooy are added to the mix. The opportunities will still be there, as the system the Bears run has plenty of holes in it, but the chance the Huskies are going to blow the Bears out again is unlikely.
The Huskies will have to tighten up their coverage, especially on the seam routes and quad formations, which caught them a little by surprise last week. Moving Luke Thiel back inside to halfback should help solve this problem. The best help the secondary could get is a strong, sustained pass rush on the Bears’ quarterback, forcing bad decisions and mistakes.
Both teams will want to come out and use the Canada West coaches’ poll, which ranked the Huskies in fifth and the Bears in sixth, as motivation. The Huskies, especially, will want to show the rest of the conference that the other five coaches were very wrong and that they will still be the toughest team in the conference to beat. They can do this if they protect the ball and make incremental improvements in their special teams play, especially in their punt coverage. Keeping the Bears on long fields all night will keep them from putting much up on the scoreboard.
Come out, enjoy some great football and pay tribute to the Canadian Forces. The second-annual Support Our Troops game will pay tribute to those who serve our country and will raise funds for the Soldier On Fund. And don’t forget to tune into the second edition of OutsiderTV from 5:45 to 6:15 for gameday news, interviews and analysis.
Go, Dogs, go!