Coming off a week 1 loss, on the road, to the reigning national champions, the University of Alberta Golden Bears football team will look to get on the winning side this week as they host the Saskatchewan Huskies (1-0) in the Foote Field home opener.
The Bears and Dawgs will clash on Friday, September 9 under the Foote Field lights with a 7:00 p.m. kick-off.
Saskatchewan comes into the week 2 tilt on the heels of a thrilling 41-39 double OT win in their home opener against provincial rival Regina.
Alberta, meanwhile, will be pushing for their first win of the 2016 campaign after dropping a 39-24 decision to the UBC Thunderbirds last Saturday in Vancouver. The Bears pushed the 2015 Vanier Cup champs, but couldn’t make plays at crucial times. Alberta did out gain UBC on offence, 509 yards to 408 yards, including 312 rushing yards, but had two turnovers, 115 yards in penalties and lost the field position battle as UBC gained 224 yards combined on kick and punt returns, while the Bears only earned 72 yards in the return game.
“Everything was there for us to win that game, if we made plays when we had opportunities, we can win that game,” said Alberta head coach Chris Morris. “But we didn’t make those plays, and when you’re playing the No.1 team in the country, you can’t pass on opportunities. We’re not good enough yet that we can win games when we giving away points, and when we take penalties and when we give up turnovers. If we make plays instead of mistakes, we can win that game.”
“Special teams were an issue as well.” noted Morris. “We gave them a short field, and when you combine that with the mistakes, it makes it easy for a team like UBC, and for the good teams, to beat you. There were a lot of positives in that game, and we’re proud of where we’re at it and happy with our progression, but we have work to do. We’re not good enough yet.”
The Bears will turn their attention to the Huskies this week, a program that Alberta beat last season in its home opener. And while it’s just week 2 of an eight week conference season, the Bears face Manitoba Bisons in Winnipeg on September 17 and then draws UBC again on September 24, this time in Edmonton.
“We want to win against Saskatchewan, it is a huge priority for us, but we’re not going down the road of ‘this game is more important than that game,” noted Morris. “This conference is so competitive, and I believe every team can beat everyone else, and it will take four wins to make the playoffs this year, so you have to be careful about managing the season. The team that improves the most between game one and game eight is a team that can be in the Hardy Cup.”
With 312 rushing yards in week 1 against UBC, including 175 on the motor that is Ed Ilnicki, the Bears are quickly establishing themselves as a dominant ground game team. The Bears, unsurprisingly, lead Canada West in rushing yards, but what is impressive is that they are a full 100 yards ahead of the second most proficient team, Saskatchewan, who has 202 rush yards.
“We want to run the ball,” stated Morris. “That is our identity. We’re going to throw with play action, and we’re going to go deep and take our shots, but for us to be successful we have to establish the run, and we believe in Ed and our offensive line to do that. We know and believe in how good Ed is, and our o-line unit has just started to really come together and move towards being really special, and with that we believe we can be a really dynamic offensive team running the ball.”
The Huskies, a 3-5 team last season, come into Edmonton with an offensive roster that returns 10 players from last season, including all-Canadian receiver Mitch Hillis, who set Huskies records last season in receiving yards (1,052) and catches (66). Picked to finish third in the conference, by the annual Canada West coaches poll, Saskatchewan also boasts a solid 1-2 punch in the backfield with Tyler Chow and Jarvis James. The backs combined for 857 yards one season ago, as well as six rushing TDs.
Three-time all-Canadian defensive lineman Donovan Dale leads the Huskies defence, a group that finished middle of the pack in 2015, by surrendering 37.5 points per game against, as well as 547 yards against, per game. Saskatchewan, however, led Canada West in sacks with 18 last season, while also recording nine interceptions.
Kick-off is 7:00 p.m. on Friday night between Alberta and Saskatchewan at Foote Field, and will be available live on Canada West TV.