Operation payback for Argos

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:18 AM ET

TORONTO - Mosaic Stadium can be the most difficult place to play in the Canadian Football League if you’re an opponent of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, what with the thousands of watermelon-wearing, green-clad leather lungs who constitute Rider Nation.

The Argonauts, though, wouldn’t rather be anywhere else on Saturday afternoon, despite losing to the ’Riders at the Rogers Centre three days ago.

“We are a 6-7 team right now and going into Regina, which is as tough a place to play as there is in this league,” said Argos head coach Jim Barker, whose players had the day off on Monday.

“It’s a good test for us to see what we are made of. Are we just going to wilt and play defence like we did (on Saturday)? Or are we going to come back and tighten up?”

The Argos will need more than tighter on defence to beat the Roughriders in Regina. Each CFL club has played 13 games and only the ’Riders are perfect at home, going 6-0.

Adjustments will have to be made on both sides of the football, and though several Argos said they would have to watch game film before they could decipher what changes they would have to make this weekend, centre Dominic Picard had a fairly good idea.

Roughriders defensive co-ordinator Gary Etcheverry likes to throw wrinkles at offences, a ploy that kept Picard on his toes.

“Up front, they try to confuse us,” Picard said. “They line up in a certain way, and when I put my hand on the ball, they shift. I have to call out the right numbers at the right time. They are trying to play with my mind, and if I am not right, the four guys beside me won’t be right. It happened a couple of times.”

The Argos-Roughriders rematch is one of four back-to-back finales across the league this weekend, but none should interest the Boatmen more than the game involving the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Edmonton Eskimos in Steeltown. The Argos and Ticats are tied in the East Division and seemingly have put enough room between themselves and the fourth-place Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

But where the logical thinking a few weeks ago had the Bombers needing a cross-over spot in the West Division to get into the playoffs, the Argos and Ticats aren’t guaranteed of anything quite yet in the East. The Eskimos (eight points) and B.C. Lions (10 points) both have won two games in a row, and with the Argos and Ticats stumbling along at 12 points each, playoff berths that looked solid a few weeks ago are on shakier ground.

So it’s more incumbent on the Argos to make the proper fixes. Though Barker undoubtedly will add to his practice roster on Wednesday when it expands to a maximum of 12 players from a maximum of seven (possibly quarterback Matt Grothe, among others) and maybe adds a body prior to the trade deadline on Oct. 13, the players he has now largely will determine whether the Argos get to the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

There are a few sobering things to keep in mind — not since 1974-76 have the Argos missed the post-season in three consecutive seasons. And the 2010 Argos have picked up on a theme that started two years ago. In games after Labour Day the past three years, the Argos are a combined 2-20. That includes a 1-3 mark in 2010. Not exactly the kind of stuff that gets one’s blood pumping for a big playoff surge.

First up is another attempt to conquer a green mountain in the form of Darian Durant, Wes Cates and others.

“All I can tell you is that it’s the perfect scenario that we play them again,” centre Dominic Picard said. “(The Roughriders) should have won a Grey Cup last year. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

terry.koshan@sunmedia.ca


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