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Historic beatdown in Saskatchewan shows coaching wasn’t the Bombers’ chief problem

Andrew Bucholtz
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Sunday's 52-0 loss to Saskatchewan marked Tim Burke's debut as Winnipeg's head coach.

There may have been two desperate teams entering Sunday's Bombers-Riders clash in Regina, but only one actually showed up. In their first game since the firing of head coach Paul LaPolice, the Blue Bombers took a 52-0 beating in their annual Labour Day weekend clash against Saskatchewan. It was the first time Winnipeg had been shut out since Oct. 8, 1967, and it also marked the Bombers' worst Labour Day loss ever. This isn't all about new head coach Tim Burke, but it certainly doesn't suggest that the situation's become substantially better since the team's ill-advised firing of LaPolice. If anything, considering the progress the team seemed to be making in LaPolice's last few games, it's hard to see this as much other than a massive step backwards.

Absolutely nothing went right for the Bombers Sunday afternoon in Saskatchewan. Mack said he fired LaPolice because of poor offensive execution and poor team discipline, but the team seems to have declined in both of those areas since LaPolice's exit. On offence, they couldn't move the ball through the ground or the air; running back Chad Simpson collected just 34 yards on eight carries (4.3 yards per carry), while starting quarterback Joey Elliott completed nine of his 19 passes (47.4 per cent) for 61 yards with an interception. Replacement pivot Alex Brink wasn't much better, as he finished with five completions on seven attempts (71.4 per cent) for 35 yards, giving the Bombers only 95 total passing yards. Burke himself is known more as a defensive mind than an offensive one, so it may be that offensive coordinator Gary Crowton (a controversial hire, and a guy with no CFL experience before this season) should bear more of the blame for the offensive fiasco, but this was a flop on the scale of what Butts Giraud used to pull off at a certain world championship.

The discipline wasn't there for Winnipeg Sunday, either, and the penalties were common and constant. If Burke intends to keep his promise of fining players for taking penalties, he's going to need a bigger vault. Perhaps the Bombers were a little confused about which holiday this weekend represents? At any rate, they clearly haven't rounded into disciplinary shape under Burke yet. Speaking of shape, that might be another issue; Chris Cuthbert and Glen Suitor discussed Burke's new trend of having players run more in practice on the TSN broadcast, and Suitor commented that said practice could potentially be contributing to the Bombers' look of fatigue.

Whatever the source of the problem, the Winnipeg players seemed to be a step behind all day, and they couldn't stop the run or the pass. Kory Sheets collected 106 yards on 19 carries (5.6 yards per carry), the first 100-yard-rushing performance from a Saskatchewan running back since Wes Cates picked up one in 2010. While the aerial attack didn't put up ludicrous numbers, it was certainly effective when called upon; starter Darian Durant had his most effective game in some time, completing 13 of 19 passes (68.4 per cent) for 168 yards and two touchdowns, while backup Drew Willy filled in reasonably, throwing eight completions on 10 attempts (80 per cent) for 98 yards and a touchdown and rushing for another touchdown.

Don't assume Saskatchewan's offensive issues are all solved just yet, or that the Riders' overall problems (this was their first win since July 14) are fixed, but they snapped a five-game losing streak here with a win over the hated Bombers, improved to 4-5 on the season and looked much better than their opposition. 2-7 Winnipeg will have to get things turned around quickly before hosting Saskatchewan in the famed "Banjo Bowl" next Sunday, and they really won't be able to use LaPolice as a scapegoat this time. The coach may be gone, but the team's looking much worse without him, and that isn't good news for Bombers' fans.

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