CFL Pass

Vanstone: Roughriders' Zach Attack is finally on display

The Saskatchewan Roughriders’ passing game doesn’t ordinarily merit passing grades.

The events of Thursday evening qualify as an exception.

Oft-maligned Zach Collaros shrugged off an early interception and fired two second-quarter touchdown passes as Saskatchewan fell 35-29 to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in CFL pre-season action before an announced crowd of 28,706 at Mosaic Stadium.

The actual crowd count had to be substantially less than 20,000 — a turnout that reflected the meaningless nature of the game.

Dismissiveness aside, Roughriders fans can derive some encouragement from the confident, competent manner in which Collaros operated the offence in two quarters of duty.

Most impressively, Collaros found Naaman Roosevelt in the end zone for a 22-yard score at 3:15 of the second frame.

Collaros has not thrown a more picturesque pass since joining the Roughriders in 2018.

Roosevelt was open in the front right corner of the end zone, the protection was sound, and the spiral hit the veteran receiver in stride.

Just like that, Saskatchewan (sort of) snapped a protracted touchdown-pass drought that had swelled to 413 minutes 15 seconds — including regular-season, playoff and exhibition competition.

Officially, the cold spell is still at 285 minutes (including regular-season play) or 345 (factoring in last year’s home playoff game).

Those numbers will carry over into the June 13 regular-season opener against the host Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The Roughriders and their loyalists can only hope that the same applies to Collaros’ strong play.

Collaros built upon Thursday’s first TD pass by finding Shaq Evans in the end zone for an eight-yard major with 42 seconds remaining in the first half.

To open that possession, Collaros had found Evans for a 36-yard advance.

Two plays later, on second-and-11, Collaros scrambled to his left, kept a play alive, and feathered a pass to Kyran Moore for a 23-yard gain. Evans scored his first CFL touchdown of any description on the next play.

And that was all anyone needed to see of the 30-year-old pivot, who went 10-for-15 for 163 yards.

Collaros, who threw for two TDs only once in 14 starts last season, watched Thursday’s second half from the sideline as head coach Craig Dickenson auditioned youngsters Isaac Harker and Ty Gangi behind centre.

Leading up to Thursday’s game, Dickenson enlightened the media as to his offensive philosophy — a foundational component being an effective ground game.

So hello there, William Powell, who rushed for 55 yards on seven carries in his debut as a Roughrider.

Powell, a high-profile free-agent signee who rushed for 1,362 yards in 16 games with the 2018 Ottawa Redblacks, performed at a level that one would expect from a player of his calibre.

His trademark elusiveness and ability to break tackles were on display until he, too, took a seat for the second half.

The closing 30 minutes were notable for a strong showing by Harker, who directed two touchdown drives and nailed down a job.

Even so, the quarterbacking story of the evening revolved around Collaros.

After going a stellar 1-for-10 in a training camp scrimmage and being rested in the pre-season opener, Collaros silenced the doubters (at least temporarily) and made some noise through the air.

None of this will mean anything if the Roughriders’ offence regresses to its 2018 form once the results actually count.

But in the meantime, and in between time, at least there is a modicum of hope.