The Winnipeg Blue Bombers aren’t wasting any time giving Matt Nichols his first start.
He will play Saturday night when Winnipeg hosts the Saskatchewan Roughriders to complete their home-and-home series. The Bombers acquired Nichols from Edmonton last week but backup Brian Brohm played in their 37-19 road loss Sunday to the Riders.
The loss ended Saskatchewan’s wretched nine-game losing streak to open the 2015 season and gave interim head coach Bob Dyce, a Winnipeg native, a victorious CFL coaching debut.
Nichols will become the fourth different starter this season for Winnipeg (3-7) following incumbent Drew Willy (knee), Robert Marve (leg) and Brohm. Willy is the club’s offensive catalyst as all of its wins have come with him in the lineup.
Brohm, a 2008 second-round pick of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, was 21 of 26 passing Sunday for just 184 yards while adding 22 rushing yards on eight carries with a TD. He went to nine different receivers but four had just one reception and Winnipeg’s offence managed less than 250 total yards.
Nichols, in his sixth CFL season, gives Winnipeg a more experienced option behind Willy. The 28-year-old appeared in 45 games with Edmonton — going 5-7 in 12 career starts — and was 5-2 with the Eskimos this season after incumbent Mike Reilly (knee) was injured.
Nichols has completed 128 of 209 passes (61.2 per cent) for 1,488 yards with eight TDs but also 10 interceptions. Overall, the six-foot-two 215-pound Nichols is 270 of 443 passing (60.9 per cent) for 3,386 yards with 19 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.
He has also run for 138 yards and three TDs.
Willy is expected to miss six-to-eight weeks and Winnipeg is 0-3 without him and 0-4 overall. The Bombers are fourth in the West Division, just two points behind third-place B.C. (4-5) but both teams would miss the playoffs if the fourth-place team in the East finished the season with more points.
Currently, Montreal (4-6) stands fourth in the East, just behind Ottawa (5-4).
Saskatchewan (1-9) certainly faces an uphill battle getting back into playoff contention but Sunday’s win was its 11th straight Labour Day weekend decision over Winnipeg. Rookie quarterback Brett Smith was 19 of 26 passing for 211 yards and a TD and also added 59 yards rushing on seven carries.
But Saskatchewan was anchored by a 161-yard rushing attack, led by Jerome Messam. The six-foot-four 245-pound native of Brampton, Ont., ran for a game-high 73 yards on 17 carries while rookie slotback Nic Demski — a Winnipeg native and former University of Manitoba standout — added a 60-yard punt return TD.
Pick — Saskatchewan.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats versus Toronto Argonauts, Friday night.
Toronto (6-4) has dropped two straight and been outscored 80-25 in the process. And it doesn’t get any easier facing Hamilton (7-3) four days after a one-sided 42-12 loss at Tim Hortons Field, thanks to 400 yards passing and four TDs from Zach Collaros. The Argos sport a 3-0 home record — which includes a win in Alberta — but the Ticats are 3-2 on the road and won 34-18 at Rogers Centre on Aug. 3.
Pick — Hamilton.
Calgary Stampeders versus Edmonton Eskimos, Saturday night.
Reilly makes his first start for Edmonton (6-4) since being hurt in the season-opening loss to Toronto. He played in the second half of Monday’s 16-7 loss to Calgary (8-2), completing five of 12 passes for 90 yards. Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell threw for 251 yards with a TD and interception, improving to 23-4 to surpass the legendary Jackie Parker for the best career record after 27 CFL starts.
Pick — Calgary.
Ottawa Redblacks versus B.C. Lions, Sunday afternoon.
Ottawa (5-4) makes the dreaded trip west but is coming off a 35-13 home win over Saskatchewan on Aug. 30. Jeremiah Johnson ran for 92 yards and three TDs against the Riders. John Beck starts for B.C (4-5) after completing 14 of 22 passes for 114 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions relieving injured starter Travis Lulay (knee) in last week’s 25-16 win over Montreal, the Lions’ first in five games versus East teams this year. The Redblacks won the first meeting 27-16 in July at TD Place.
Pick — Ottawa.
Last week: 3-1.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press