Thursday, November 23, 2006


For Saturday's Vanier Cup (3:30 p.m. ET, The Score/RDS) between the Laval Rouge et Or and Saskatchewan Huskies, some of the diehards from have been offered to share their insights on the two teams, who are meeting in the championship for the second time in three years. Hey, it's far better than to do it this was to than to recycle past records and what-not.

Without further ado, here' s Green Husky Fan and Snake Wilson, the acclaimed author of Snake Wilson's Guide To Saskatoon.

Oh, by the way, there's a winter storm watch on for Saskatoon -- and the high for Saturday is -21C. Oh, and it's been 38 years since a Western Canada team lost a national playoff game at home.

1. There's a lot of hoopla in Saskatoon this week -- blanket media coverage, you name it. How do the Huskies avoid getting too wound up for this game?

Snake Wilson: "The Huskies have watched the stadium being constructed while they practised and played, so pressure is nothing new for them.

"That said, actually preparing for the game and being featured on every newspaper and news telecast is completely new pressure. From what I have seen, coach Brian Towriss and his staff have brought their team back down to earth by preparing them like they would for any other game... As an experienced staff who has been in big games before, the Huskies coaches will prepare their players as best they can and focus on beating Laval. "

Green Husky Fan: "I think B.T. will do a good job at keeping his players well grounded... Having said that, the media circus here surrounding the Vanier is unbelievable and you'd have to be living in a cave not to notice it. Regardless of what the Husky coaches do and say, I'm sure these guys will need a few series to settle down. Same goes for Laval."

2. Huskies QB Bret Thompson hasn't been asked to pass much in the playoffs, yet the Huskies pulled off a comeback win last week despite him throwing for just 84 yards against Ottawa. Is there a concern the Huskies are getting a little one-dimensional on offence?

GHF: "This has been a concern of mine all year... Thompson has had some decent passing games but he has not consistently done it. If Laval stuffs the run early, the Huskies may need to get the passing game going to give the running game some room. With the miserable weather, however, it may be difficult for either team to throw."

Snake: "The passing game has not put up the numbers many would have expected, but it has kept defences on their heels, opening up holes for the running game. The Huskies know they are capable of advancing on the ground and through the air, and that they have the talent to beat an opponent in many ways."

3. In the Huskies' minds, how much of an advantage is it to be used to the Prairie cold -- it could be 20 below with snow and wind -- we're going to get on Saturday?

GHF: "I don't think it's that much of an advantage because neither team is really used to playing in these temperatures. Even in Saskatchewan, it is exceptionally cold for this time of year. For example itwas 10 C at last year's Mitchell Bowl which was around the same time (Nov. 26).

"The advantage might lie in the fact that the Huskies are more of a ground team and Laval is more of a passing team."

Snake: "In the Huskies’ minds, I don’t think they believe the cold will give them an advantage. They know that Laval is a formidable opponent and will be well prepared, no matter the condition. However, the conditions will likely affect their gameplan, as the -20 C conditions will present challenges for the quarterbacks and receivers. The conditions will also bring focus to the preparation of special teams, where they have been mistake-prone at times this season."

4. Saskatchewan's D vs. Laval's O, what do the Huskies have to concern themselves with most? How big a game is someone such as safety Dylan Barker going to need to play?

Snake: "Barker, Jordy Burrows and the other defensive backs will be looked upon to make plays and shut down the vaunted Laval passing attack, although they likely won’t be asked to be gamebreakers...

"The Huskies' front seven will looked at to be more of a factor. They played very well in the last two games, save for some sloppy tackling on Ottawa's first touchdown last week. The concerns they had earlier in the season over the interior of the defensive line have been largely addressed, at this point, with the emergence of tackles Chris Masich (an all-Canadian in junior who was injured for the first five games of this year) and Craig Albert (a 19-year-old rookie).

Along with speedy and strong ends Chris Eckert and Brian Guebert, and linebackers Taylor Wallace, Chad Guidinger, and Gabe Mackasey, the defensive line of the Huskies will give the Laval offence many looks and more challenges than they've faced during the season."

GHF: "The Husky D needs to limit Laval to short passes and run plays. If BenoƮt Groulx (Laval's QB and a Hec Crighton Trophy nominee) manages to stretch out the D the way other QBs have, it could be a long day for Sask.

"Barker will be a key to keeping the Laval receivers honest. He's usually everywhere making tackles and he will need to be even better on Saturday."

5. Ottawa's first touchdown last week came on a wide receiver screen -- Laval uses a similar play. How much do the Huskies have to worry about Laval receivers such as Nic Bisaillon (#24) and Matthew Leblanc (#5)?

GHF: "I believe this will only be a factor if the longer pass is established first(like Ottawa did) because this is when the Husky D spreads out to protectagainst the big play."

Snake: "The weakness of the Huskies' typical defensive formations is that they concentrate too much on limiting the big play, often giving up first down yardage, particularly yards after the catch, in the process. If the Huskies are going to win, they will have to address this weakness or force the pass to the edges of the field, allowing the corners and halfbacks to have more time to break on the ball."

6. I'm writing this without knowing running back Scott Stevens' status for Saturday. Tyler O'Gorman had a big game against Ottawa, but how much would Stevens be missed if he can't go?

Snake: "It is unlikely that Stevens will dress. O'Gorman is capable of carrying the load for the Huskies, with assistance from Jordon Koroll, who brings a similar, physical style of play as Stevens. The Huskies ground game is much more dependent on the blockers in front. The offensive line adjusted last week and wore down a tough Ottawa line. The offensive line is expecting the return of injured centre Tim West, and will have very able backups and a strong blocking back in Dan Houle to ensure that the ground game is still a force."

GHF: "He will be missed dearly if he can't go. The Huskies have employed a two-back system all year and although either of these guys can get it done, they are much more effective in tandem. Stevens is more of a power back and is great at 'softening up' defences. Once this is accomplished, O'Gorman can use his speed to blow by guys.

"There's also the factor that with two backs going, they always have fresh legs."

(UPDATE, Friday 4:03 p.m. ET: Stevens is out, according to the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix.)

7. Special teams -- Laval's got any number of big-play return guys such as Bisaillon and Duane John. How vital will the Huskies' punt and kickoff cover guys be on Saturday?

Snake: "They have had some breakdowns at times, and need to be ready for the explosive abilities of the Laval return game. If the cover teams give Braden Suchan time to get the ball away, the kicking game could be a point of strength."

GHF: "This will be huge for Saskatchewan. These guys basically won the game against Ottawa byforcing turnovers and keeping the returns to a minimum. With the cold weather,there is a good chance that both teams will struggle on offence, thus making the battle for field position very critical. Punting and field goal kicking, aswell as coverage, could be the difference."

8. No one's more criticial of their team than its most hardcore fans. So then, what's it take to beat the Huskies?

Snake: "Being consistent and mistake0free. The biggest reason the Huskies have gotten this far is because they were able to cause turnovers and take advantage of the breakdowns of the other teams. If the Rouge et Or are able to get their passing game working and maintain it, it could be a long day for the Huskies and their fans."

GHF: "There are two keys to beating the Huskies. 1) Stop the running game. This means O'Gorman, Stevens, and Thompson. Any of these guys can make it a long day fordefences. However, if accomplished the Huskies will have to pass more often. As we all know, the passing game has been inconsistent at best. 2) Stretch out the pass defence. Teams that have had success against Saskatchewan this year have all had good passing games and QBs with a strong arm.

Lastly, Snake points the U of S has had some special mojo working this season: "The Huskies know they can win it if they play to their abilities and with the heart that allowed them to pull off comeback wins over UBC and Ottawa and beat the undefeated Manitoba Bisons."

That's all for now. Send your thoughts to

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