Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back Brady Oliveira (20) runs the ball during first half CFL action against the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Regina on Sunday, September 3, 2023. (CFL PHOTO - Matt Smith)
The walls surrounding the visitors’ locker room at Mosaic Stadium are cinderblock-thick, with the metal door entryway also providing – in most cases – an effective sound barrier.
Yet late Sunday night not even the walls to a nuclear bomb shelter would have contained the sounds of rage and frustration coming from inside the Winnipeg Blue Bombers locker room after their 32-30 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the annual Labour Day Classic.
And the loudest voice heard was that of quarterback Zach Collaros, no doubt still seething from the loss and the nasty head butt he took from Roughriders defensive end Pete Robertson with just over four minutes left in the game. What happens behind those doors when they are closed is confidential, but the themes from his post-game speech – expectations and accountability, both personal and as a collective – were being repeated long after the room was opened for post-game media interviews.
“I’ve got a lot of feelings right now, mainly frustration,” began receiver Drew Wolitarsky. “The way we fought back and then to lose like that… you work so hard in the game; you use up so much energy and then it’s hard. I like how we fought back, but there’s a lot of s—t in my head right now, bro.
“There’s so much frustration right now. They’re a good team. They’re hungry. They beat us and they’re no doubt feeling confident. Now we want to respond to that. But there’s so much stuff that has to be fixed, stuff we could have done better. It’s a game where whoever plays cleaner – who has fewer turnovers and mistakes – wins. Give props where props are due. They played a good game.”
As we stated in our Game Recap the reaction to the Robertson head butt – and the subsequent one-game suspension levied by CFL headquarters on Monday – is the storyline that will only be further fanned leading up to Saturday’s Banjo Bowl.
But the Blue Bombers’ frustrations from their own play on Sunday – and how they respond to that – will be massive in a shorter week. And we’re not simply talking about the failed two-point conversion that would have extended the overtime session, but plays throughout – including an opening onside kick off recovery by Riders placekicker Brett Lauther that foreshadowed some of the many Blue Bombers mistakes.
“It doesn’t come down to that two-point conversion,” said Brady Oliveira. “There were lots of plays we left out there on the field that I want back myself. Personally, I could have been better on some and I’m sure there are lots of other guys in this locker room on offence, defence and special teams that are probably thinking the same thing.
“We’ve said it so many times – we have a very high standard on this team, and we’ve got to be better, man. If we make more plays, we’re not even in that situation. It’s frustrating. I hate losing. I frickin’ hate losing.”
More on the loss in the Labour Day Classic in this week’s edition of UPON FURTHER REVIEW…
A COUPLE MORE TAKES ON THE ROBERTSON HEAD-BUTT… from the Blue Bombers locker room post-game.
Oliveira, when asked whether the emotion from that might boil over into the Banjo Bowl (and before the Robertson suspension became official):
“Nah. Whatever. I mean, we’re not going to put a ‘hit’ marker on him. But in that moment, they’ve got to make a way better call. It was blatant. Right in front of my face. I don’t care if it’s the quarterback… if it’s an offensive lineman or a running back, you play clean between the whistles. We take pride in playing physical between the whistles for an entire 60 minutes. After the whistle, don’t do nothing like that. That was dirty by #45, headbutting him blatantly in the face. And then the fact it has to go to the command centre to be reviewed… how do you miss that?”
“I haven’t seen it yet, but I keep hearing guys talk about it. We’ve got to prevent that stuff. We’re losing quarterbacks as it is in our league and that hurts the league. It’s about having respect. There’s physicality in this game, but there’s also stupidity. We need to respect the players and respect the league. At the end of the day, we want great football, and we want great games. Doing stuff like that is not going to help the league.”
THREE NUMBERS THAT JUMP OUT AFTER A SECOND LOOK AT THE STATS… package, available here.
1 – A lot of chatter about another slow start for the Blue Bombers, as they were out-scored in the first quarter 3-0 with the only offence coming from Brad Oliveira, who rushed five times 39 yards. In addition, Collaros was 0-4 with an interception in the first 15 minutes.
It marked the fourth straight game the Blue Bombers have not led after the first quarter, including the win over Edmonton and Calgary, and being tied with Montreal at 7-7 in the game prior to Labour Day. Winnipeg is now 5-2 in games in which they trailed or were tied after the first quarter.
2 – The Blue Bombers had 14 offensive possessions in regulation, plus the one in OT that automatically starts at the opponent’s 35-yard line. Their best start to a drive saw the ball placed at centre field, with their average drive start being the 34-yard line.
By comparison, Saskatchewan had 15 possessions, including three in the first half inside their own 20. But in the second half their average drive start was their own 44. Related to that, Mario Alford averaged 13.7 yards on six punt returns and an alarming 38.8 yards on four kickoff returns. Winnipeg’s Jamal Parker managed an average of 8.1 yards on seven punt returns, while Greg McCrae averaged 13.5 yards on two kickoff returns.
“We didn’t win the field position battle, that’s for sure,” said head coach Mike O’Shea. “I think all three phases, they’re going to see plays they know they could be better with throughout the entire game. It just so happens with special teams they only get so many opportunities. They don’t get 60 (plays), they get five of this type or four of that type, so obviously they want to be better, too.
“We’ll see… scheme or personnel, but they’ve got one of the best returners in the league, too, and they got us. You see the one at the end where two of our guys, two of our fastest guys, end up tripping on each other’s feet. That can be a big difference, too.”
3 – The Blue Bombers have now lost twice in overtime this year, including the July 15th defeat in Ottawa. In both those games the defence could not force a turnover or a two and out leading to a field goal attempt, surrendering a TD run from Dustin Crum in the loss to the RedBlacks and then a one-yard plunge by Riders short-yardage QB Antonio Pipkin on Sunday.
The defence has been on the field for seven snaps in the two OT losses, giving up 36 yards and two TDs on three rushes, while Riders QB Jake Dolegala was 3-of-4 for 34 yards – plus the two-point conversion pass to Shawn Bane, Jr. – in Sunday’s loss.
THE ROUGES… The Blue Bombers conceded two punt singles in the fourth quarter, the first with nine minutes left and the Riders ahead 19-17 to make it 20-17 and the second with 2:53 remaining that turned a four-point advantage by the visitors at 24-20 to three points.
Both decisions were made to help improve field position.
“I would absolutely do that every time… the field position, right?” said O’Shea afterward. “You start on the 40 (after conceding) where if you run that out (instead of conceding) they’re probably already in field goal range if you don’t get a few first downs.
“So, you get instant field position. You only need a couple first downs before you’re trotting Sergio (Castillo) out (for a field goal). You do that again and again.”
THE LAST WORD: We’ve trotted out a lot of ugly numbers in this week’s UFR. Here are a couple of positive ones that fuel some intriguing water-cooler/backyard beers talk.
Nic Demski pulled in five passes for 118 yards on Sunday, helping him already set a career high in receiving yardage at 786 on 49 receptions. Included among those five grabs was this dandy one-hander:
— CFL (@CFL) September 4, 2023
The 786 receiving yardage total already eclipses the 772 he had last year on 64 catches over 13 games.
Oliveira, meanwhile, continues to have a sensational season as he rushed 17 times for 88 yards and two TDs while pulling in one pass for another 12. He’s now up to 990 yards rushing, leaving him just 10 shy of back-to-back 1K seasons. This run, in particular, was all about will:
“it was just a little baby stiff arm”
— CFL (@CFL) September 3, 2023
So, here’s the water cooler/beers discussion: if you had to vote right now, who\ich of the two would get your Blue Bombers Most Outstanding Canadian nod?