CFL West semifinal: Riders have horses to beat Lions | Football | CBC Sports

CFLCFL West semifinal: Riders have horses to beat Lions

Posted: Wednesday, November 6, 2013 | 01:07 PM

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Jabar Westerman, right, of the Lions pounces on a Darian Durant fumble in a 24-22 victory over the Roughriders on Sept. 22. (Liam Richards/Canadian Press) Jabar Westerman, right, of the Lions pounces on a Darian Durant fumble in a 24-22 victory over the Roughriders on Sept. 22. (Liam Richards/Canadian Press)

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CBC Sports football contributor Malcolm Kelly explains why he thinks the Saskatchewan Roughriders will beat the B.C. Lions in Sunday's CFL West Division semifinal at Regina.

All through their 3-6 second half, we have been pounding on the Regina men.

They haven't lived up to the expectations of summer and have not played like the Grey Cup contender we counted them to be in the very year that our "Grand National Drunk," as the great Dick Beddoes proclaimed it, is coming to the prairie.

Yet coming down the stretch, a smart jockey knows when to put the whip away, so...
The host Saskatchewan Roughriders (11-7) will defeat the B.C. Lions (11-7) in Sunday's West Division semifinal at Mosaic Stadium.

Many pundits are calling for this one to be fairly close, pointing to the season stats that show both clubs as eerily similar across almost all of the offensive and defensive categories. From here, the Roughriders will be pulling away at the end.

B.C. simply does not match up well against the Riders, home or away. Yes, excellent quarterback Travis Lulay did not play in any of the three matches between the clubs - the first won by the Lions, despite being outplayed, and the other two easy Regina runaways.

Note: Speculation all week had the quarterbacking situation up in the air in B.C., but if Lulay can fog a mirror and wasn't hurt again in that small stint, it says here he starts.

Lulay, finally back after rehabbing a shoulder injury, saw some action in Week 19 and looked pretty good, but he's rusty and, more importantly, cannot play defence. Being unable to defend what the Riders bring is where the difference lies.

Both clubs have to run to win and both can, but only Sunday's home club has done it with success head-to-head.

In Week 15, the Riders had 121 yards on the ground from all sources and won 31-17. In Week 17, it was 186 yards by land in a 35-14 winner. Yes, they had but 39 versus the Leos in Week 13, but that was without running back Kory Sheets.

B.C. had 240 total rushing yards for the three matches, putting too much pressure on the quarterbacks to find open receivers. Saskatchewan, remember, led the CFL in interceptions with 25.

Over the final two meetings, Lions backup quarterback Thomas Demarco was forced into seven picks, a big-time number. Lulay, always calm, will not do that, but he will be rushed and there will be errors.

The Riders love errors. Their takeaway-giveaway ratio was plus-19, tied for tops in Canada. Between them across the defensive line, Messieurs (Alex) Hall, (John) Chick, (Ricky) Foley and (Tearrius) George combined for 40 sacks overall.

Adam Bighill, with nine QB takedowns for B.C., is fabulously dangerous, but he can't be four guys at once.

From the Leos' perspective, Andrew Harris, who rushed for 998 yards this season, is a strong running back, but he doesn't like the Riders at all, totalling just 66 yards in three games. If they gave him the ball a bit more, however, it might help. Sheets ran for 228 yards for Regina in two games, missing the other with an injury.

B.C.'s defence has been getting ever stronger against Riders quarterback Darian Durant, holding him and his trio of star receivers to 187 yards in their third matchup, down from 326 yards in the first, but doing that is at the expense of allowing more rushing yards. A tough choice.

Remember, however, the Lions had 21 picks of their own this year, so Durant needs some caution.

Where this could go wrong:

1. Saskatchewan settled for too many field goals (46) this season, especially in the second half, and that brings up one of the strangest stats of 2013. Chris Milo missed just one kick all season against everyone else, but he was eight of 13 versus B.C. That's weird. If he misses a couple early, it could keep the Lions in the game long enough for point two to become crucial.

2. Lions kick returner Stefan Logan could go nuts. B.C. has had success against the Riders special teams. Tim Brown returned kickoffs and punts for 201 yards in their two first meetings, while Logan had 167 return yards in the last - and he'll carry back the mail on Sunday. Add that Saskatchewan was burned for 262 return yards by the Edmonton Eskimos in Week 19 and this is worth watching. No coverage for the Green guys, no trip to Calgary.

3. The weather. Long-range forecasts (they're almost never right) call for minus-8 Celsius and a dusting of snow in Regina on Sunday. That tends to go the Riders way, but if that temp comes up a bit and, most important, there is no wind, it breaks more for the Lions, a dome team.

I don't think so, though. This is Saskatchewan.

Our playoff record last year: 3-2

Follow Malcolm Kelly on Twitter @sportsnag

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