Argos can’t afford to take a wounded Riders for granted in Sunday’s rematch

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A 4-2 Roughriders team with its collective backs against the wall versus the 2-2 Argonauts, looking to collect wins in back-to-back weeks and sweep the season series.

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Sunday’s Argos-Riders grudge match already had the makings of a compelling game, but the storyline keeps changing with every passing day.

As of Saturday, which was the originally scheduled date until a COVID outbreak spread through the Riders early this past week, franchise quarterback Cody Fajardo was listed on the one-game injured list, one of 14 Saskatchewan players so designated.

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Backup QB Mason Fine appears on the depth chart with the initials GTD next to his name. In other words, he’s a game-time decision.

The listed starter is 6-foot-7 Jake Dolegala, who has never started a game at the pro level.

The Argos, meanwhile will of course go with McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who has never started a game in Regina. In fact, at Mosaic Stadium the man known as Mac has thrown but six passes.

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The Riders roster has been in a state of flux since they returned from Nova Scotia, site of last Saturday’s 30-24 Argos win.

They won’t have wide receiver Duke Williams, who is serving a one-game suspension for his pre-game confrontation with Argos’ Shaq Richardson.

Neither will the Riders have playmaking defensive back Nick Marshall, who also moves to the one-game injured list.

And defensive lineman A.C. Leonard, a late scratch last week, is on the six-game injured list.

Interestingly, Charleston Hughes will finally start at rush end for Saskatchewan. During his ill-fated time as an Argo last season, the veteran recorded one sack, which ironically, came in Regina when he tackled Fajardo for a loss on an off-script run play.

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By the end of last season, Hughes was nowhere to be found.

The Riders are a wounded group, but are dangerous nonetheless.

Dieuly Aristilde Jr., will make his first start of the season at wide receiver in place of Williams.
Return specialist Mario Alford, who is listed as a starter at slotback, has eight career receptions in the CFL, including seven as an Argo when he broke into the league in 2018.

The Argos, in contrast, are fairly healthy. In fact, there are only two changes among the starters from last weekend’s win.

On offence, Trevon Tate will fill in at left tackle for an injured Isiah Cage, while defensively, safety Royce Metchie moves to the one-game injured list after producing his first interception as an Argo last week. He hasn’t been at practice this week because of personal reasons.

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According to their depth chart, the Argos will start rookie Eric Sutton Jr. at safety, a sixth-round pick from this year’s CFL draft who was born in Regina. His dad played for the Riders in their defensive backfield.

Another Regina native and University of Saskatchewan product Josh Haggerty is listed as the backup at safety. Drafted by the Argos in the sixth round of the 2021 draft, Haggerty suited up against his hometown team when Toronto visited Mosaic Stadium last season.

At least on paper, this could be a cakewalk for the Argos.

Keep in mind, however, that the team’s offence under Bethel-Thompson and running back Andrew Harris has been inconsistent and failed to score a second-half touchdown last week.

Argos head coach Ryan Dinwiddie is looking for his interior linemen along the offensive line of scrimmage to be more stout.

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“We want to run the football down hill and I’m hoping we can get it done this week,’’ said Dinwiddie, whose run game produced 71 yards last Saturday, including a scant 39 yards from Harris on 15 carries, numbers that simply won’t cut it.

“We had five-man boxes last week (from Saskatchewan’s defence). We got double-teams and we can’t even get to the linebackers. Last week was tough, but I think we’ll be better this week.”

Dinwiddie knows his offence must be better.

The unit was bailed out by Toronto’s defence last week when the offence couldn’t stay on the field.

Kurleigh Gittens Jr. knows the difficulty of beating an opponent twice in as many weeks, regardless of the circumstances.

“As long as have the same focus, prepare the same and treat it like it’s the first time we’ve played them and everything should be all right,’’ said the receiver. “For us, all we’re thinking is how can we get better.”

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One would think the Riders will run plays that allow Dolegala to make quick throws, assuming he actually starts.

Given the lack of depth at receiver and the inexperience at quarterback, the Riders must run the football effectively and win the battle of field position. It helps them that Jamal Morrow and Frankie Hickson form the CFL’s best tandem at running back, though the Argos did a decent job of containing them last week.

Unless they completely shoot themselves in the foot, which is possible, the Argos need to focus on stopping the run and force the Riders to win through the air.

Either way, it will be a tall task for Saskatchewan to pull off the win, even if it is at home for a game billed as Family Day.

The Argos have had two byes this early in the season, but they’ve also flown to Vancouver, were in Nova Scotia last week and will be in Saskatchewan this week.

They maintained their weekly routine by cancelling Thursday’s practice when it became obvious Saturday’s game would be rescheduled, electing to meet as a group.

“It’s been great,’’ added Gittens Jr. “Everyone is on the same page because we’re all experiencing this as a team.

“We grind together and we look forward to those trips because we know football does not last forever.”

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