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

From The Sports Network

By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor

DATE & TIME: Saturday, July 28, 6:00 p.m. (et).

GAME NOTES: Last year at this time the Saskatchewan Roughriders were staring at a 1-3 record, en route to a miserable 1-7 start to the 2011 campaign and a dismal five-win season overall. The 2012 campaign has the Riders at the other end of the spectrum, tied for the best record in the CFL after four weeks as they get ready to challenge the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Mosaic Stadium.

In fact, Saskatchewan was the last of the unbeatens for this season before being caught up in a wild overtime affair last week versus Calgary and bowing to the Stampeders on the road, 41-38. The 41 points allowed were more than the 37 given up by the Riders through the first three games of the campaign, so clearly it was not the norm for the squad.

One of the most productive running backs in the league thus far, Kory Sheets ran for a game-high 72 yards and scored twice for the Roughriders, giving him at least one major in every game this season, but it still wasn't enough to keep the Riders from falling into the loss column for the first time this year.

Quarterback Darian Durant completed just over half of his pass attempts (19- of-37) for 219 yards and two touchdowns, but he was also sacked three times and intercepted once by the Calgary defense. Backup signal-caller Drew Willy completed his lone pass attempt to Neal Hughes for a two-yard TD in the second quarter as well.

Unfortunately for the Roughriders, even though the offense was consistently putting points on the board, the defense could not stop Calgary receiver Nik Lewis who reeled in seven passes for 98 yards and a total of three scores, including the game-winner from 16 yards out in the overtime session.

While Saskatchewan tries to recover from its first loss of 2012, the 'Cats hope to build on their impressive 39-24 home win over Montreal on Saturday. With the victory, Hamilton created a log-jam at the top of the East Division standings as it is tied with both the Alouettes and Toronto Argonauts for first place with a 2-2 record.

Ahead by a score of 32-10 at the break last weekend, Hamilton's offense nearly disappeared completely in the second half, save for a 26-yard TD pass from Henry Burris to Andy Fantuz. Burris had an incredible game for the hosts as he completed all but three of his 30 pass attempts, leading to 360 yards and four touchdowns. The 90.0 percent completion rate was the highest in CFL history with at least 30 attempts and for that Burris was named the CFL Offensive Player of the Week.

Burris spread the ball to eight different receivers with half of them reaching the end zone. Like Burris, Andy Fantuz is another new addition to the Hamilton lineup and put on a strong display last week as he posted game highs with eight catches for 135 yards and one score, en route to being named the CFL Canadian Player of the Week.

Chris Williams tacked on seven receptions for 115 yards but, as well as he played on offense, he also showed some poor judgement on special teams. In the second quarter Williams appeared to be well on his way to a touchdown, but near the end of what should have been a 117-yard major following a failed field goal at the other end, Williams began to showboat and was taken down short of the goal line.

Running back Chevon Walker took the ball into the end zone on the first play from scrimmage following the folly by Williams, the running back finishing the meeting with a game-high 80 yards on 19 attempts.

A former league MVP, Burris, who is in his first season with the Tiger-Cats after spending the previous seven campaigns with Calgary, now leads the league in TD strikes with 11 and is carrying the best efficiency rating (113.9) into Week 5 action. The signal-caller is well on his way to eclipsing his TD pass total from all of last year when he tossed just 20, his lowest total since 2003 when he attempted a total of just 24 passes to begin with.

Also working well for the 'Cats is the progress of Walker who is third in the league with 315 yards on the ground.

With Burris finding his groove in the pocket, the next step for the Tiger-Cats is for the defense to saddle up and become a little less lenient, seeing as how the team is third from the bottom in points allowed at the moment (33.3 ppg) and has a mere five takeaways through the first four games of 2012.

Saskatchewan's defense has been much tighter, thanks in large part to a front line that discourages opponents from running the ball. Through four games the Roughriders have defended a league-low 59 rushing plays. It also doesn't hurt that the unit has forced nine turnovers and easily has the best turnover margin with a plus-eight at this stage.

The teams split their two meetings last season with the Roughriders picking up a 19-3 win at home on October 29 after being blown away in Week 3 action on the road, 33-3.

Dating back to 1950 and taking into consideration only regular-season meetings, Saskatchewan owns a 40-37-4 advantage in the series with the Ti-cats. The Roughriders won this year's season opener on the road, 43-16, which means they've taken two in a row and 15 of the last 17 matchups with Hamilton.

Both of these teams are scoring in excess of 30 ppg at the moment, which means it will be a bigger challenge for the Tiger-Cats to keep up, considering their defense has been much weaker through the first four weeks of action.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Saskatchewan 38, Hamilton 27

07/25 10:40:56 ET

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