Breaking down the Huskies and Bisons

First place in Canada West, home-field advantage in the playoffs and a lot of other stuff hinges upon what happens Saturday in Winnipeg between last year's Hardy Cup foes, No. 2 Saskatchewan, three-time Vanier Cup finalists, vs. the No. 4 Manitoba, both unbeaten. Snake Wilson, who runs the U of S blog The View From The Stands, has a look at both teams:


The Manitoba offence has had very little turnover from last year. Karim Lowen and Matt Henry are both within spitting distance of 300 yards rushing through the first two games, and quarterback John Makie has 666 yards passing and four touchdowns, distributed to his excellent receiving corps which includes 2006 Canada West all-star Terry Firr. Turnover along the offensive line has not hampered the Bisons, although they are only third in total offensive yards (1,313) and third in points scored (92), far from resembling their dominant 2006 team.

Saskatchewan has faced some turnover on the defensive line, notably at the end spots, where Chris Eckert and first team all-Canadian Brian Guebert have left significant holes. Those holes have been filled well by former junior all-star Ivan Brown, who has 14 tackles and two sacks through three games, and by fourth-year player David Cooke and newcomer Bryce Papic, who have platooned at the other end position. The Huskies return a veteran secondary that leads Canada West in pass defence through the first three games. They are led by 2006 all-Canadians Dylan Barker (team-high 21 tackles) and Jordy Burrows, who has returned two interceptions for touchdowns.

The Saskatchewan defence has been vulnerable to the run, surrendering 501 yards on the ground, including 295 to Calgary in Week 2. If interior lineman Jay Bradshaw returns to the Saskatchewan defensive line, it could put more emphasis on the passing game, which will feature Manitoba’s talented and veteran group against Saskatchewan’s stingy, ball-hawking secondary.


There are two key battle lines to watch when Saskatchewan has the ball. The first is veteran Bisons ends Justin Shaw and Justin Cooper vs. Saskatchewan’s tackles, Jordan Rempel and Hubert Buydens. The second key matchup is Saskatchewan’s receivers against Manitoba’s secondary. The likes of Leighton Heron, Cory Jones, and Scott McHenry put up big numbers in the Hardy Cup match last year, and have done the same in the first three games of the 2007 season. The Manitoba secondary, led by cornerback Mike Howard and safety Bob Reist, will be looking to make a statement by atoning for the Hardy Cup game.

Saskatchewan’s offence looks good in the stats, but has taken until the second half of the past two games to get going, with second-string QB Laurence Nixon leading the charge against Simon Fraser last week after a horrible first half by starter Bret Thompson. Saskatchewan's running game is not as dominant as it was last season, with more emphasis put on the passing game, but they have still racked up 627 yards on ground through three games, good for third in Canada West.

Overall, Manitoba has 10 starters back on defence has allowed a league-low 897 yards so far. Their strength is the front seven. Cooper, Shaw and DT Simon Patrick lead an excellent group that has registered six sacks through three games. As noted, the Bisons need their secondary to make more plays; it's a veteran unit, but has only one interception in three games.
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