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Game Preview: Huskies at UBC

Saturday, September 15, 3:00 p.m.
University Stadium
Broadcasts available: Radio – www.ck750.com (pregame show at 2:30 p.m.)
TV – Shaw (channel 10 in Saskatoon, channel 303 in HD) and Shaw Direct (channels 299 and 407).

Records coming in: Huskies: 1-1, third in Canada West, lost 31-28 in Manitoba last week (ranked ninth in the FRC-CIS Football Top Ten); UBC: 0-2, fifth in the Canada West, lost 49-20 in Regina in week two.

Quarterback Drew Burko (photo by Liam Richards for Electric Umbrella)

Head to head history: Saskatchewan has 11 regular season wins to UBC’s one since 2002. The Huskies are officially 3-0 in the playoffs against UBC since 2002 since UBC’s victory over the Huskies in the Canada West semi-final was vacated due to UBC’s use of an ineligible player.

What’s on the line: For the Huskies, going into the stadium where their season ended last year and coming out with a win would give them an early boost. In addition, they are playing their first game of four this season on Shaw, and a strong showing will show the country they are for real, in spite of being young and inexperienced at a few positions.

For the Thunderbirds, they would like to erase the past two weeks, especially last week’s game where they led 13-7 at the half but gave up 42 unanswered points in the second half, losing 49-20. This won’t be easy, as their fifth-year, Hec Crighton award winning quarterback Billy Greene has an injured knee. Green will reportedly play but will likely do so as a pocket passer, something UBC is not accustomed to.

Key players:

Saskatchewan

  • Centre Brad Nehring – Nehring is the quarterback of the big guys up front, and in the first two games, the offensive line has been solid, giving up three sacks while allowing young quarterbacks and running backs the time and space to run for 280 yard and pass for 520 yards through two games. The third-year centre is one of the top offensive linemen in the conference and should get serious all-star consideration this year.
  • Slotback Jeff Moore – Although he has only caught four passes for 22 yards so far this season, Moore has contributed in a big way on special teams. Moore made a great play, coming unblocked off the edge and tackling the punter, setting up the Huskies on the Manitoba 15 which resulted in a touchdown. He is a fast, tough inside receiver and it is only a matter of time before he has a few big games.
  • Safety Bryce McCall – With one interception, McCall will tie the CIS, Canada West and Huskie record for career interceptions with 21. More importantly, however, is his play on defence so far, where he leads the Huskies and is tied for tenth in the Canada West with 10.5 tackles. He continues to be a solid example of doing what is needed, providing excellent coverage and stepping up to fill gaps and stop the run.
  • Defensive Tackle David Rybinski – Although he is rarely recognized, the success of the Huskies in stopping the run is directly attributable to Rybinski and his solid, consistent play in the interior of the line. Without his strong play and leadership, the Huskies defence would be much easier to play against. He is the top nose tackle in the confenrece, although he doesn’t get the stats and recognition of the others, since teams avoid running his direction more often than not.

UBC

  • Running Back Brandon Deschamps – Sitting in fifth in the conference in rushing, just behind his quarterback Billy Greene, Deschamps has become a key contributor to the Thunderbirds offence. This second-year player has 149 yards rushing so far and should see more carries with the knee injury to Greene.
  • Wide Receiver Micha Theil – The fourth-year veteran has emerged as the early go-to receiver in the UBC arsenal so far this season, currently sitting fifth in the conference with 120 yards and two touchdowns. Theil gets tough yards over the middle and has a knack for getting open,
  • Linebacker Vivie Bojilov – One of the few veterans returning to the UBC defence from last season, Bojilov is currently tied for fourth in the conference with 12 tackles and has added one sack to his stats. This second-year transfer from Simon Fraser is fast and hard hitting and will likely come on a blitz or two as the Thunderbirds overload the line in an effort to stop the Huskies’ strong passing game.
  • Halfback Bryan Rideout – Rideout led the Thunderbirds in tackles last week against the Regina Rams with 5.5 and had an interception and breakup in addition. Rideout has been a bright spot in a secondary that lost all starters from last season.

Key matchup: The key matchup this week will be Saskatchewan’s defensive secondary against the high flying receivers of UBC.

Prior to last week’s game, Manitoba head coach Brian Dobie said he believes Saskatchewan has the best secondary in the conference. This didn’t stop him from taking advantage of a couple blown coverages, one which resulted in an 85 yard touchdown, or for going for a third-down conversion with 11 yards to go, which was successful. In spite of a few bad plays in that game, the Huskies still boast an excellent secondary, which includes two fifth-year and two fourth-year players.

They will have their hands full with UBC’s veteran receivers, which includes fourth-year Micha Theil, who leads the team with 120 yards and two touchdowns, fifth-year player Jordan Grieve and fourth-year player David Scott. Even with Greene injured and possibly out, and with second stringer Dominik Bundschuh possibly getting some playing time, the Huskies will still need to be sharp against the Thunderbirds receivers, as they have the same big-play ability as we saw from Manitoba last week.

Roster moves: The Huskies will welcome back defensive back Andrew Abbs, and linebackers Thomas Hilderman and Corbin Eskelson. It looks like running back Shane Buchanan will be out another week and linebacker Dane Bishop will also sit out at least this game. Dexter Janke, Garrett Burgess, Thomas Hilderman and Glen Joorisity remain out of the lineup.

Billy Greene may or may not be in the lineup for UBC. Should Greene not participate, this will be the first game for UBC without Greene starting since October 4, 2008, when Marc McVeigh started in a 37-3 loss to the Huskies in Saskatoon.

What to expect: Expect the Huskies to win. Simple as that.

Don’t get me wrong — I don’t expect they’ll dominate the game, especially since it is their second straight on the road. But if they are able to put together a similar performance on offence as they did in Manitoba, there should be many more opportunities to drive the field and score on a defence as poor as UBC’s. Currently, UBC is giving up an average of 40 points per game and 456 yards per game.

The Huskies are getting healthier and the young players now have some game experience under their belts, so the expectations will start to grow. There is still room to improve and adjustments to make, working towards peaking in the playoffs. If they can make it through the first half of the season .500 or above, it has to be considered a success, and from what we’ve seen from the Canada West games so far, a 3-1 record after the first half is a real possibility.

Last week’s game had many positives come out of it, including a close, three-point result, which will be important as the Huskies will host the Bisons later in the season and point differential could factor into playoff positioning. In addition, the Huskies were able to get an early look at some deficiencies on all sides of the ball that they will now be able to correct prior to critical games late in the season.

UBC’s offence will suffer from Greene’s injury. His rushing ability, which has him currently sitting in fourth place in the Canada West in rushing yards, opens up many opportunities for the passing game. Not only will his running suffer, but so will his passing ability if he’s unable to plant his leg properly. UBC may be better off with Bundschuh in at quarterback, in spite of his lack of experience, and Billy Greene does have the opportunity to have a medical red-shirt year and return next season at this point. It will be interesting to see which way coach Shawn Olson and Greene go, as one more play this year will ensure Greene will have used his eligibility at the end of this season.

While the Huskies are 1-1 at this point, there is no doubt that this team is far better than the 2011 version that started out 2-0. The offence is much further along and the defence is verging on dominance. The special teams are also further along, with defined roles for and better performances from the kickers and consistent performances in both the return and coverage teams. This team is heading in the right direction, and a win in Vancouver will make things much easier later in the season if they’re in a tight battle to host a playoff game.

Go, Dogs, go!

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