WINNIPEG — On the heels of the Labour Day Classic, the Saskatchewan Roughriders travel to Winnipeg to take on the Blue Bombers in the 17th annual Banjo Bowl.
After handing the Riders their first loss of the season in convincing fashion after causing issues for Cody Fajardo and the Riders’ offence, the Bombers leapfrogged into first place in the CFL. With a Labour Day Classic win secured in enemy territory now in the rear view, the team returns home to IG Field and turns their attention to Saturday’s second half of the home-and-home series with intentions set on defending their 2019 Banjo Bowl title.
While his team has just played and was very successful against the Riders, Bombers’ head coach Mike O’Shea isn’t planning on resting on his laurels ahead of Saturday. In fact, O’Shea sees the game as an entirely different challenge and an opportunity for his team to get better.
“We treat this as a separate contest,” said O’Shea. “I know it’s the same opponent, I know we just ended up with two points, but there’s still lots to fix, there’s still growth to be had for every player, there’s still the idea of making those improvements.”
Additionally, O’Shea was ecstatic with the performance of his defence, limited Cody Fajardo and the Riders’ offence to only eight points and 276 yards, but says it’s all in the past.
“I believe the defence played really well,” said O’Shea. “It was a really pleasing game. Once again, it’s part of who we are, you have to move on. They were certainly going to enjoy that win that night, just don’t think you can stare in the rear-view mirror and admire it for too long.”
An area of that defence that made it so difficult for the Riders offence to get anything going was the Bombers’ pass rush.
Ruining entire games is nothing new for the star-studded front seven that includes Willie Jefferson, Jackson Jeffcoat, Casey Sayles, and linebacker Adam Bighill as the Bombers defence has recorded a sack or more in four of their fives games so far this season. With constant pressure coming down on Fajardo, Brandon Alexander was able to make plays in the secondary as he recorded two picks on the day. Though his play on the weekend earned him a Top Performer of the Week for Week 5, he notes it was a team effort.
“It’s the D-line, the linebackers getting after it, you got the DBs running to the ball afterwards, there are just a lot of things on that film that you can definitely take home and write about,” said Alexander.
Alexander also knows that coming off the performance that he did, Fajardo will be looking to come back with vengeance.
“I know that he’s looking forward to making up for whatever that he felt he did wrong last game,” said Alexander. “We know we’re going to get something different from him and we’re going to have to make our adjustments to try and have another game like that again.”
Having seen what Toronto did against the Bombers with the implementation of their run game, William Powellfeels that there is a way to dampen the effect of Winnipeg’s defence.
“We feel like there’s opportunities whether it be in the pass game or the run game,” said Powell. “We feel like we left some opportunities out there, we feel like that there’s more opportunities if we game plan and execute properly.”
While Powell and the Riders’ offence were only able to gain 65 rushing yards against the Bombers’ front, they have shown that they can run against a physical defence, having racked up 165 yards on the turf against Hamilton in Week 2.
When asked about what the Riders’ offence needs to do better this week, Fajardo issued the same sentiment as Powell, stating that they looked to the Argonauts for inspiration.
“That’s kind of been our momentum, our motto, was looking the way Toronto came out,” said Fajardo. “I think they completed 50 per cent the first time they played them and then the second time they played them it was somewhere around 75, 78 per cent and scored points on them.”
For Riders’ head coach Craig Dickenson, the key to the Riders’ success Saturday depends on two areas; starting strong and winning the trenches.
“We just got to have some success early in the game against Winnipeg, try to get a decent start and get our confidence back,” said Dickenson. “We got to be able to protect the quarterback and move people in the run game and stop the run on defence.”
The Banjo Bowl kicks off at 4:00 p.m. ET this Saturday on TSN and ESPN+ and can also be followed along on CFL.ca’s Game Tracker.