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Game Preview: Huskies at Alberta

Saturday, October 20, 1:00 p.m.
Foote Field, Edmonton
Broadcast available at www.ck750.com (pregame show at 12:30 p.m.). Webcast also available on CanadaWest.TV

Records coming in: Huskies: 3-3, third in Canada West, won 44-39 over the Manitoba Bisons in week six. Alberta: 0-6, sixth in the Canada West, lost 51-1 to the Calgary Dinos in week six.

The Huskies are ready (photo by Derek Mortensen for Electric Umbrella)

Head to head history: The Huskies have 14 wins to Alberta’s 3 since 2002. They each have two wins in four playoff games.

What’s on the line: The Huskies can clinch a playoff spot for the 12th year in a row with a win in Alberta. They can also gain some momentum heading into to the final game against UBC and the playoffs with a big win against the Bears.

Key players:

Saskatchewan

  • Kit Hillis – Receiver: Hillis is the leading receiver in the Canada West conference with 686 yards on 50 receptions and seven touchdowns. Hillis is a game changer who is always a threat to break a big play or put up a score. He should have another big game against the Bears’ defence, which has given up 1827 yards and 14 touchdowns.
  • Richard Zacharias – Linebacker: Zacharias is among the top tacklers in the Canada West this season, with 31 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble. He is a sure tackler who has become better as the season has progressed. Look for him to be among the defensive leaders again after this game is done.

Alberta

  • Jess Valleau – Receiver: The fourth-year veteran is leading the Bears with 399 yards, but he may be most dangerous as a returner. Currently, he sits second on the team with 106 punt return yards and is first with 302 kick return yards, good for 802 all-purpose yards this season. Valleau is one of those players who always seems to do well against the Huskies, so they will have to keep an eye on him, especially when he is returning kicks.
  • Ryan Dean – Linebacker: The fifth-year linebacker will want to leave his final game at home with a win, something he hasn’t experienced since the Canada West semi-final game two years ago where he and his teammates broke the hearts of Huskie fans with a come-from-way-behind 31-30 win. Dean currently leads the team with 31 tackles and forced fumble, and will be looking to shut down the suddenly potent Huskie offence.

Key matchup:Alberta has a veteran defensive secondary, with the likes of Brent Krawchuk, Randon Ralph, and Tanner Lestus all playing their final home game for the Bears. They will be facing a Huskies’ receiving corps that is getting healthier and better by the week, with slotback Jeff Moore coming back this week, adding to the a unit that saw the Garrett Burgess and Kit Hillis return with big games last week. Look for Alberta to be as disruptive as possible and force some of the same mistakes we saw the Huskies make last week against Manitoba, but also expect the Huskies go deep often and put up serious yards against the fifth-ranked passing defence in Canada West.

Roster moves: The Huskies will welcome slotback Jeff Moore back to the lineup. Running back Dexter Janke is out for the season and defensive lineman Zach Hart may not play but should be back in time for the UBC game next week. Quarterback Drew Burko will sit out one more game to ensure he is healthy for the Huskies entering the playoffs.

What they’re saying: “We just gotta play 60min. We’ve done quarters, we’ve done halves, we’ve done plays, like (Jeff) Stead says we just gotta go and do a full game. I think personally, honestly, if we play a full game we’ll win. I’m not worried about what their records are, if we go out and play a full game, I’m pretty confident in us.” – Alberta defensive back Brent Krawchuk (from Kevin Jesus’ Locker Talk blog)

What to expect: Expect the Huskies to come out firing in all three areas of the game. They will be looking to make a statement that they are a much better team than they were prior to the bye week and that they will only get better as the playoffs approach.

Last night’s Regina victory over the Calgary Dinos once again pointed something that has been shown over and over in Canada West: Early season strength often doesn’t translate to who will do well in the playoffs. I know the playoffs aren’t here yet, but they’re right around the corner, and in the past two weeks, we’ve seen UBC win against Regina and Regina win against Calgary. At the very least, the results we’ve seen the last two weeks are evidence of a much tighter conference than most observers believed we had, and that Calgary should certainly not be booking their tickets to Hamilton for the Mitchell Bowl just yet.

With a convincing win in Alberta, the Huskies can show that they are still a good team that those who believe Regina or Calgary have the conference sewn up should be aware of. Of course, a convincing win next week against UBC will make much more of a statement than a win against a team that hasn’t won in almost two years, but a dominant performance in Edmonton will still show that they should not be overlooked.

The Huskies are getting better at the right time, and even though they won’t be finishing first or second, their performance last week should be turning heads. They have done very well as the underdogs in the past, beating the heavily-favoured first-place teams in each of 2002, 2004 and 2006 on their way to the Vanier Cup in each of those seasons. Perhaps something similar will happen this year, with the favourites falling victim to a determined and undervalued squad in the playoffs. We’ll see about that in a couple weeks, but first things first.

Expect a big win from the Huskies in Edmonton today.

Go, Dogs, go!