Vanstone: Roughriders buckled against Arbuckle
The Saskatchewan Roughriders gave Gainer new eyeballs, which was thoughtful, but the issuance of a complementary blindfold would have been humane.
Instead, the Roughriders’ mascot and the predominantly green-clad diehards among the 29,147 onlookers endured the sheer, unabating horror of watching the Calgary Stampeders take the Green and White to school by a 37-10 count on Saturday night at Mosaic Stadium.
Considering that quarterback Cody Fajardo was bound to hit a speed bump at this early juncture in his career as a CFL starter, it is tempting to give Saskatchewan’s offence a pass — which would perhaps be intercepted.
But where, oh where, was the allegedly formidable Roughriders defence?
Did most of the defensive players begin their bye week three hours earlier than anticipated?
Is anyone missing Chris Jones yet?
Stampeders quarterback Nick Arbuckle, making his first CFL start, lacerated the Roughriders for 19 completions in 22 attempts for 262 yards and two touchdowns.
After Weyburn’s Tenille Arts did such a tremendous job of singing “we stand on guard for thee,” the Roughriders were caught off guard by THE Stampeders — a perennial powerhouse that reasserted its dominance despite being a patchwork unit.
Saskatchewan was outplayed, outcoached, and simply out of it for most of the evening.
Even though the Stampeders are contending with injuries to marquee quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell and an assortment of defensive players, the Roughriders looked absolutely lost.
Fajardo, who had thrown for 790 yards over his first two CFL starts, was held to 89 yards Saturday before being mercifully replaced by rookie Isaac Harker.
Over the previous two games, Fajardo had completed 16 passes for gains of 17 or more yards. On Saturday, Saskatchewan had one such pass — a 26-yarder to Naaman Roosevelt.
The Stampeders, by contrast, were able to go over the top in timely, back-breaking fashion.
Late in the third quarter, for example, Saskatchewan was trailing 15-10 and Calgary was backed up to its two-yard line.
Five plays and 108 yards later, the Stampeders were in the end zone, courtesy of a 19-yard toss from Arbuckle to Eric Rogers. After eluding defensive halfback Ed Gainey on a double move, Rogers caught the exacting pass 15 yards deep in the end zone.
Rogers, over and out.
The Roughriders answered the Rogers TD when Fajardo threw a scoring pass to Tre Roberson, who happens to play for Calgary.
Roberson’s 48-yard pick-six, followed by Rogers’ two-point convert, put the visitors ahead 30-10.
At that point, only Kyran Moore (with three short receptions) had caught more of Fajardo’s passes than Roberson, who registered two interceptions.
“Stop throwing his way!” Rogers said near a TSN microphone.
If that wasn’t ugly enough, Calgary punctuated its next possession with a 76-yard TD pass from Arbuckle to Reggie Begelton, who got behind Loucheiz Purifoy and was off to the races.
The Roughriders buckled against Arbuckle, time and time again. (So much for having a great week of practice.)
Add Arbuckle to an expansive list of unproven or non-legendary quarterbacks who have tasted sweet victory at the Roughriders’ expense over the years.
The list, by the way, also includes (inhale) Spergon Wynn, Rick Worman, Jimmy Kemp, Johnny Evans, Mike McCoy, Troy Kopp, Brian Ransom, Kevin Mason, Greg Vavra, Kevin Ingram, Luc Tousignant, Kevin McDougal, Major Harris, Terrence Jones, Tom Porras, Tom Muecke, Ricky Turner, Jordan Case, Mark Jackson, Tony Adams, Dave Marler, Chris Vargas, Bernard Quarles, Drew Willy, Dominique Davis and, lest we forget, Reggie Slack (exhale).
To be fair, Fajardo gave the Toronto Argonauts the Arbuckle treatment five days before the Stampeders conducted Saturday’s clinic.
Fajardo’s 430-yard gem, which led Saskatchewan to a 32-7 victory, had tongues wagging and hopes soaring.
Then came Saturday, when it was clear from the outset that Fajardo would not end up lacerating Calgary’s defence.
Saskatchewan’s first two possessions, if they can be so termed, were two-and-outs. The punt was preceded by a sack on both occasions. And on it went.
After surrendering just four sacks over the first three games, the Roughriders helped their quarterback off the turf on five occasions on Saturday.
Saskatchewan gamely tried to establish the run, but William Powell was held to 50 yards on 14 carries.
In second-and-long situations, the Roughriders were easy prey for the Stampeders, whereas Calgary moved the chains on second-and-13, second-and-14 and second-and-19.
The Stampeders didn’t always throw aggressively in those situations but, thanks to the Roughriders’ matador defence, it mattered not.
“Calgary’s got some big, strong guys and they ran through a lot of arm tackles tonight,” Roughriders head coach Craig Dickenson said after his team’s record dropped to 1-3.
The Stampeders’ tacklers, meanwhile, held Saskatchewan to 233 yards of net offence — a notable descent when you consider that Fajardo threw for 296 yards in the first half against Toronto.
“Any way you cut the cake, you can put that game on me,” Fajardo told reporters Saturday in an admirable display of accountability.
The Roughriders’ field boss didn’t take Fajardo’s advice, instead providing a general and apt assessment of a gruesome performance.
“It’s a team game,” Dickenson said. “This one’s on all of us — coaches, players … everybody.”
Everybody, that is, except Gainer.
Even with a giant gopher on the premises, it was left to the Roughriders to dig their own holes.