CALGARY - A year ago, it was the Beatings of Alberta.
My, how things have changed quickly with the Edmonton Eskimos.
Suddenly, the Calgary Stampeders are looking at a meeting with the Eskimos with the realization it will be a challenge instead of a cakewalk like it was in 2010.
“Rivalry? Is there one?” said Stampeders head coach John Hufnagel. “The Battle of Alberta is always on everyone’s mind.
“The fact they are an undefeated football team — that we’re one game behind them — it should be a great game.
“There should be a lot of hype to it. There should be a lot of excitement. This is what you want, both as a coach and as a player and as fans.”
When the Eskimos (3-0) invade McMahon Stadium Saturday evening, they will have a much different attitude than the group that limped out of Calgary following 52-5 and 56-15 losses in 2010.
For one thing, Fred Stamps will be in the lineup. The 2009 CFL leading receiver missed four games last season due to a shoulder injury, and three of those games happened to be against the Stampeders.
Since the Stamps last played the Eskimos when it mattered, they hired a new GM in Eric Tillman, who in turn hired a new head coach in Kavis Reed.
Somewhere along the way Ricky Ray rediscovered himself, and, despite making numerous changes on both sides of the ball, the Eskimos are playing like a team that’s been together for years.
“They are playing excellent offensive football, so they are staying on the field a lot,” Hufnagel said. “They are getting the lead early. Their defence … makes it difficult for the offence to stay on the field. They are playing just good team defence. Offensively, Ricky Ray is managing the pocket very well and managing the game very well. Their entire team is taking care of the ball. They only have one turnover in the three games, and that was a fumble.
“Ricky is on-target. We need to get some pressure on him and make him uncomfortable to make him make a mistake or two.”
Through three games, the Eskimos have yet to play from behind at any point.
Although Stamps is the main target in the receiving corps, the Eskimos have received a group effort on offence, and they haven’t even had running back Arkee Whitlock in the lineup yet.
There is a three-headed monster at running back with import Daniel Porter and Canadians Jerome Messam and Calvin McCarty splitting action.
While the Eskimos are clicking offensively, the Stamps are struggling in that area.
They will need to figure it out quickly, as the Eskimos defence ranks second in the league with 10 takeaways.
“I didn’t expect us to have the same production as last year because the respect
I have for the defences we’re playing against,” Hufnagel said.
“You can’t just close your eyes to what’s going on. We need to get better offensively.
“Dropped balls, missed reads or a poor throw. It’s the same players who accomplished some very good things over the past few years.
“Sometimes patience is needed, but my patience is wearing thin.”