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Game Preview: Huskies vs. Manitoba

Friday, September 5, 7:00 p.m.
Griffiths Stadium
Broadcast available at www.ck750.com (pregame show at 6:30 p.m.).

Records in 2013: Huskies: 5-3, third in Canada West; Manitoba: 5-3, second in Canada West. Saskatchewan lost 37-36 to the Bisons in the Canada West Semi-Final.

Head to head history: The Huskies have a narrow 7-6 advantage over the Bisons since 2004. The teams are tied with a 1-1 record against each other in the playoffs in the past deacade.

What’s on the line: An early lead in the Canada West standings. These teams may be battling for a home playoff date at the end of the season, so a win by a large point spread would benefit either team.

For the Huskies, they have significant motivation to win this game. Not only is this a chance to avenge the one-point loss in last year’s playoffs, but this is a chance to show the voting members of the FRC – CIS Top Ten, who voted the Huskies as the fourth best team in the Canada West, placing them at 10, while putting Manitoba at six and UBC at seven.

Key players:

Saskatchewan

Safety Mark Ingram – In Ingram’s first season in the Canada West, he was a Canada West all-star with 30 tackles, one interception and two breakups. The Huskies will be counting on a similar performance this year from the former Regina Thunder all-Canadian, and he should deliver on an improved Huskies defence.
Running back Andre Lalonde – This 2013 CJFL all-Canadian comes to the Huskies after five years with the Saskatoon Hilltops, where he had 1367 yards and 7 touchdowns rushing last year. He has attended the last two Roughrider training camps and may be just what the doctor ordered on offence: a big, downhill runner who hits the hole hard and defenders harder.


Manitoba

Quarterback Jordan Yantz – A 2013 Canada West all-star, he can beat you with his arm or with his legs on the ground. Yantz had 2474 yards passing plus 396 yards rushing. In spite of losing first-team all-Canadian Anthony Coombs, Yantz has several weapons and will be a great week-one challenge for the Huskie defence.
Defensive Tackle Evan Gill – The first-round draft pick of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats is the heart of the Bisons defence. In 2013, he had 28.5 tackles, 7.5 for a loss, three sacks and a forced fumble. The 2013 Canada West all-star will be a tough task for the interior of the Huskie offensive line.

Key matchup: Keep an eye on how the Huskies front seven perform against the Manitoba offensive line. If the likes of Agbaje, Twarynski and Morrison can get through the line and in the face of Yantz, it could be a long night for the Bison offence. On the other hand, if Yantz gets time in the pocket and running backs Kienan LaFrance and Alex Christie can find holes to run through, this one might get away on the Huskies.

What they’re saying: “We’ve had some good quarterbacks, so I’m going to lose some friends when I say this… Jordan Yantz is at a whole different level. He’s an amazing athlete, great leader and his ability to throw the football is through the roof.” – Manitoba head coach Brian Dobie, singing the praises of his quarterback.

What to expect:Expect a bit of a shootout as these two renew acquaintances.

We know the Bisons will have a good offence, with Jordan Yantz, Nic Demski and Danny Turek ready to light things up. But also expect the Huskies’ offence to match Manitoba blow-for-blow, as they have the talent, the experience and a new playbook to keep opposing defences on their heels.

The Huskies have been dissed and dismissed by most observers in their Canada West previews. With only two starting offensive linemen and two starting receivers returning, it’s somewhat understandable. However, if two brothers with a total of ZERO CIS plays under their belts can propel UBC to seventh in the country, perhaps the talented Huskie offence, and the team as a whole, deserves another look.

The Huskies return a third-year starter in quarterback Drew Burko, who now has a dedicated quarterbacks coach in Laurence Nixon. They recruited one of the best junior running backs of the last two decades in Andre Lalonde, two of the top-ranked high-school running backs in Tyler Chow and Kayden Johnson, and return third-year speedster Jarvis James to a stacked offensive backfield.

Sure, they lost three good receivers in Mitch Stevens, Garrett Burgess and Jeff Moore. But, as we’ve been saying on this site for three years, Julan Lynch and Brydon Ozmun are going to be forces in the Canada West. They will complement 2013 recruit John Trumpy, who joins the team after five years as one of the best receivers in junior football with the Saskatoon Hilltops. And there’s our own pair of brothers, Kit and Mitch Hillis. They’re pretty good, too.

As for the offensive line, they return a couple fifth-year veterans who are as good as any linemen in the West in Brad Nehring and Mat Leung. At tackle, former junior all-Canadian Drew Digout will make an impact, as will the 6-8, 320 lb. Texan Ryan Breadner. And the addition of former CFL top-lineman Scott Flory, who draws his wisdom from the playbooks of Marc Trestman and Don Matthews, might help.

If you haven’t gathered, I think the Huskies’ offence will be pretty good. They will catch more than a few pundits and journalists by surprise. They won’t be perfect and they will need some work, but this is true of all teams. I have little doubt that this team has the offensive firepower to be among the best in Canada this season.

I don’t mean to ignore the Huskie defence, but they are a known commodity. They’re good. We will soon forget they lost three defensive linemen, as they will field arguably the best group of linemen in the conference. They return veteran, proven linebackers like Richard Zacharias, Jeff Hughes and Dane Bishop and have upgraded their secondary with the addition of junior stars Chris Friesen and Taylor Rehn.

If this team competes, keeps their intensity up and has a little luck with their health, they will take most of the CIS by surprise. What better way to start than by beating the Bisons at homecoming live on Shaw? It won’t be easy – the Bisons are very good and deserve their adulations.

The Huskies are far from the “rebuilding” team some have written them off as. Hopefully they show this on Friday night with a big win against the Bisons.

Go, Dogs, go!

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