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CFL Preview - Toronto (1-3) at Saskatchewan (1-2)

From The Sports Network

By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor

DATE & TIME: Saturday, July 26, 10 p.m. (ET).

GAME NOTES: The 2013 Grey Cup Champions find themselves all alone in last place in the West Division standings this week, not exactly the position the Saskatchewan Roughriders expected when they began their title defense.

This Saturday, the Roughriders try to rebound from a two-game slide as they host the Toronto Argonauts at Mosaic Stadium.

Saskatchewan began the 2014 campaign in the correct manner with a 31-10 rout of Hamilton in the rematch of the most recent championship meeting, but after that things went sour. Versus Toronto and British Columbia, the squad was outscored by a combined 74-28 margin, and is now trying to get back on track. Last season the team, which had a bye last week, opened with five straight wins and was 8-1 after nine games.

If the Roughriders thought they were going through a rough time of it in the early going, they need to look no further than Toronto in order to feel a little better about themselves. The Argonauts have just one win to their credit in four chances, becoming the first team to fall to the expansion Ottawa RedBlacks last week, 18-17, in the first game played at the renovated TD Place.

Toronto, which is lucky to be tied for second place in the East Division standings with Montreal at 1-3, scored a mere seven points in the first half against the RedBlacks and struggled late when they were unable to put distance between themselves and Ottawa, and eventually fell behind.

Playing without Chad Owens, one of the most electrifying performers the CFL, quarterback Ricky Ray was left to lean on a host of unproven receivers and the outcome was far from optimal. Ray converted 21-of-37 passes for 298 yards and a score, but was also picked off twice while placing second on the team in rushing with 23 yards on four attempts, just one yard behind Curtis Steele who did his damage on four carries as well.

Since running for 59 yards and a pair of scores versus Saskatchewan in the first meeting of the season back on July 5, Steele has a mere 28 yards on five attempts in two outings.

Saskatchewan, which caught a break in the schedule last week after being doubled-up by British Columbia on July 12 (26-13), is currently in the bottom half of the CFL in scoring with just 19.7 ppg, a considerable difference from last season when the squad was second in the league at 28.8 ppg.

When you combine the slumping offense of the Riders with a pass defense that is second-to-last as it allows opponents to complete 65.3 percent of its attempts, it is easy to see why the first month of the campaign has been so troubling.

Darian Durant, who finished first in 2013 with 31 passing touchdowns and was third in passing yardage (4,154), is currently carrying a pass efficiency rating of only 78.7 through three games, having tossed almost as many interceptions (four) as majors (five).

In the first meeting of the season between the squads back in Week 2 at Rogers Centre, Toronto rolled up 568 yards of total offense, thanks mostly to Ray who converted 29-of-37 passes for 407 yards and three scores during the 48-15 onslaught. Owens was responsible for 11 receptions for 159 yards and a TD, adding another 89 yards on punt returns as well.

Durant managed to post 295 passing yards and two scores, but he was sacked four times and saw one of his two interceptions thrown to Antwaun Molden returned a staggering 108 yards for a major in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.

With the win earlier this month, Toronto has now taken three of the last four encounters, although the Riders still lead the all-time series, one that reflects only regular-season matchups dating back to 1961, by a count of 46-38-1.

Expect the Roughriders to exact some revenge for the loss a few weeks ago, and squeak out a hard-fought home win this time around.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Saskatchewan 28, Toronto 23

07/23 11:44:44 ET

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