Putting run on the Riders?

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:14 AM ET

REGINA -- If you are looking for intrigue and suspense, you will find it at Taylor Field in Regina this afternoon.

The Edmonton Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders desperately need a win in this key CFL western division showdown.

The Esks lead the race for second spot and the coveted home playoff date by four points over the Riders.

If Edmonton wins, there is some breathing room, as Rider Nation can all but kiss goodbye any hope of hosting a playoff game for the first time in 17 years.

But if Saskatchewan wins, the Riders will be riding a massive wave of momentum with three-straight victories while the Eskimos will be living in a nasty pressure cooker, losers of four of their last six games.

There are also subplots galore in this tilt.

Edmonton's top-ranked passing game vs. Saskatchewan's top-ranked pass defence.

Saskatchewan's lethal running game vs. Edmonton's wicked run defence.

And there is the issue of job security in the Eskimo backfield.

Head coach Danny Maciocia could have three solid running backs - each with appealing aspects - at his disposal by early next week.

For the second straight game, Ron McClendon is the starting ball carrier for the Eskimos. Some people in his shoes would be sweating bullets, knowing a change could come with a poor performance. But McClendon is calm and collected.

DOESN'T FEEL THAT WAY

When asked if he needs a big game today to protect his job, McClendon replied: "I don't feel that way at all."

The 24-year-old Louisiana native has heard all the talk in recent weeks about former CFL all-star Mike Jenkins being a free-agent signing by the Eskimos and flashy college star Dahrran Diedrick arriving in the city.

McClendon actually turned the tables while in a media interview yesterday, spitting the questions out before being asked.

"Are you concerned about Jenkins?

"Are you concerned about Dahrran?

"If it was up to you (media) guys, every week I would be concerned about something," he explained. "You can't be concerned with that.

"The coach and I have talked about it and he's behind me."

Maciocia believes McClendon has been "pretty good" as of late.

"I think he is getting a feel of the CFL game - all of that unlimited motion back there, picking up the blitzing (line)backers, catching the ball coming out of the backfield," said the head coach of the CFL rookie.

CAN MAKE THINGS HAPPEN

"And, obviously, given the opportunity when he does have the ball in his hands, he can make things happen."

McClendon has played in six games this season. With a limited amount of carries in his last two starts - against Montreal (Aug. 26) and Calgary (Sept. 9) - he has rushed for a combined 110 yards, giving him a healthy 7.3-yard average per carry.

But the bottom line is this: If McClendon struggles today, Maciocia should have some appealing options for next Saturday's game versus the B.C. Lions.

Jenkins - who replaced McClendon on Labour Day, but got hurt - is expected to be completely healthy next week and Diedrick will have a full game under his belt.

There is no questioning the fact the Eskimos need a solid running game to take the pressure off starting quarterback Ricky Ray, who was under siege last week against Calgary, as Stampeder defenders pinned their ears and ran at Ray, knowing he was likely passing instead of handing off.

"I think we have to go out there and probably at least be able to run it 15 or 20 times," said Ray.

McClendon ran just six times against Calgary last Friday.

In a perfect world, 15-18 carriers is the target range for Maciocia.

But having success on the ground against the Riders doesn't come easy.

The green and white boasts the third-best run defence in the league.

It's just another intriguing element to today's game.


Videos

Photos