Just two games ago, I noted that there was still one major question facing the Saskatchewan Roughriders: whether the team's offence could function without Darian Durant at the controls. But at most one week later than might have been ideal, we seem to have our answer.
No, Drew Willy isn't anywhere close to Durant's comfort level in the 'Riders' offence. In fact, Willy's performance yesterday served largely to highlight some of the most important elements of Durant's game which won't be duplicated by any backup: his comfort level with multiple 'Rider receivers, his ability to prolong plays by finding the right angle or the right fake to slow down onrushing defenders, and his command of a full array of offensive weapons.
But if Willy obviously isn't up to Durant's standard, he showed yesterday that he can still do enough to earn a win for the 'Riders in a game where the team's defence and special teams play up to a reasonable standard.
In particular, Willy's willingness and ability to stretch the defence after a tentative start worked wonders throughout the game. In the second quarter, he piled up three passing touchdowns to give the 'Riders a lead they wouldn't relinquish - and in the second half, a couple of deep throws that didn't quite connect nonetheless served to keep the Ticats guessing and opened up opportunities for Kory Sheets to run down the clock.
Meanwhile, the rest of the 'Riders can best be seen as filling their roles in a game where everybody else needed to step up slightly to account for a less experienced quarterback. Of particular note, Geroy Simon had his first huge game for the team - nicely replicating a pattern which helped the Lions for so long where even newcomers who couldn't find any other receivers open always seemed to connect with Simon. The defence didn't corral the Hamilton offence as well as in the previous game, but made up for it with a bevy of sacks and turnovers. And the 'Riders' special teams once again reduced an opponent's return game to rubble.
Now, Durant gets a couple of weeks to heal; Willy can spend the bye week processing what he saw in his first successful CFL start; and the rest of the team mostly needs to keep up and build on what it's done already. And while the odds are that 'Riders will have some tougher games ahead, we can't ask for much more at this point in the season.