Blue Bomber Report Record: 6–6–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Five storylines

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Jeff McIntosh / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES
Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Darian Durant has started five straight Labour Day Classics and won five straight.

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Jeff McIntosh / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Darian Durant has started five straight Labour Day Classics and won five straight.

Five storylines to consider heading into Sunday's Labour Day Classic between the Blue Bombers and Roughriders in Regina:

1. CLASSIC? TRY CLUNKER

It was the Spanish philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist George Santayana who said "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Clever dude, that Santayana.

So our mini-Labour Day Classic history lesson begins with this important nugget: The Bombers haven't won in this annual battle since a 17-4 victory in 2004. Jim Daley was the coach; Kevin Glenn, filling in for an injured Khari Jones, threw second-half TD passes to Milt Stegall and Kamau Peterson. And for long-suffering Bomber fans who have made the annual trek west, that's a whole lot of lagers and tears ago.

Over that stretch the Bombers have come within a touchdown only once and the average margin of defeat is a whopping 19.8 points.

Classic? Yeah, right.

That's what makes this year's edition a little different. With the Bombers at 6-3 and the Riders at 6-2 it marks just the ninth time (1939, 1975, 1977, 1982, 1985, 1993, 2003 and 2007 the others) in the 51-year history of the LDC in which both teams have sported a winning record.

 

2. JOHN CHICK AND THE BULLDOZERS

The numbers, even in a league where gaudy stats can become commonplace, are astonishing: Riders defensive end John Chick has 12 sacks in just eight games. That has him on pace to take a shot at James "Quick" Parker's CFL record of 26.5 sacks, set in 1984.

Chick is a game-changer up front and the Riders move him around from end to end in an attempt to avoid double-teams. Still, the B.C. Lions held him to just one tackle and no sacks last week by paying special attention him, and often lining up in a double tight-end set. But any offence, and particularly Drew Willy -- sacked three times by Chick in their last meeting -- has to be aware of where he lines up on every single play.

There's more: Saskatchewan is the only team this year to have recorded two or more sacks in every game and both Rickey Foley and Tearrius George each have five QB kills. The Riders lead the league with 32 sacks.

The other subplot to the last meeting between these teams -- a Rider win in Winnipeg earlier this year -- was how the Rider O-line bulldozed the Bombers at the line of scrimmage and took control of the game by banging Jerome Messam at them over and over again.

"They're great players," said Bomber defensive tackle Bryant Turner, Jr. of the Rider O-line. "They're an athletic group. They're well coached and they go against great people every day, because they've got a great D-line. It's a veteran group.

"We've made leaps and bounds since the last game. That wasn't our best game. We gave up some running yards and some execution wasn't happening. We want to test to see if we're going forward, not backward. I don't think the play calls were bad or we were put in bad positions as players. It just came down to the want, to heart and technique. We lost that battle. We're looking forward to taking another shot at it."

 

3. DURANT? SUNSERI? WILLY? BROHM?

By the time the ball is put on the tee Sunday afternoon it's expected -- but not guaranteed -- Darian Durant and Drew Willy will be the starting QBs.

And while us hacks in the media breathlessly report every update on the pivots -- it's what we do after all -- who takes the first snap is often of little consequence to those in the line of fire.

Case in point, we give you Bomber defensive lineman Zach Anderson, when asked about facing Durant or his backup Tino Sunseri: "Doesn't matter," he said. "Thinking too much can cause some bad things. Especially on defence and the D-line.

"It's go get the guy with the ball. Like a dog."

Just for the record, the two backups -- Saskatchewan's Tino Sunseri and Winnipeg's Brian Brohm -- have combined to throw 39 passes in their CFL careers; 38 of them by Sunseri.

 

4. THE DRESSLER EFFECT

The Riders will welcome back Weston Dressler on Sunday, fresh from his stint trying to crack the Kansas City Chiefs. This is big for the Riders for a number of reasons, most important the impact he brings to a passing attack that ranks eighth overall (204.1 yards per game) and the connection he has with Durant.

Some compelling numbers, courtesy CFL stats guru Steve Daniel:

-- Of Dressler's 442 receptions, 124 have been second-down conversions or 29 per cent.

-- He has 60 catches of 30-plus yards and 62 of 98 games with 50 or more receiving yards.

-- Interestingly, of his 20 career 100-yard games, only one has come against Winnipeg in his 11 games against them.

 

5. PASSION+FANATICSMAYHEM

As much as the Labour Day Classic might represent the best of the Canadian Football League -- two diehard fan bases gathering for a weekend of fun in an annually sold-out building -- there's a certain level of nasty to it.

Yes, this just in: the fans can also get ugly.

Former Bomber Mike Abou-Mechrek once told the story of having his eyes opened at his first Classic when he turned around to hear a cute little girl in a ponytail screaming at the top of her lungs: "Your mother's a (insert series of bad words here)."

So as much as teammates who have experienced the madness can fill in the Classic newbies of what the weekend is like, it's one of those games a player has to live to understand. Especially so, perhaps, if you are an ex-Rider returning as the QB of the Bombers.

Ladies and gentlemen, Drew Willy...

"That's a good question," said Willy earlier this week when asked what he expected the fan reaction to his return might be. "I'm sure they'll boo me. You gotta love that as a competitor and a player. But I did everything I could the two years I was there. I enjoyed my time there, but I'm so happy to be here now... they'll probably boo any Winnipeg guy."

Yes, welcome to Labour Day, when every old insult is new again.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 30, 2014 C3

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