ORONO – That the University of Massachusetts football team is coming off a 1-11 season and failed to score in its opening game last weekend does little to dissuade Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove that his Black Bears will be a decided underdog Saturday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
UMass, like Maine a founding member of the old Yankee Conference, is in its second season as a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS, formerly Division I) program, having left Maine and the Colonial Athletic Conference in search of greener pastures.
“They’re going to be a lot bigger than we are and they’re going to be a lot faster than we are,” said Cosgrove, pointing out that UMass has 85 full scholarships to the 60 allowed Maine and its Football Championship Subdivision (FCS, formerly Division I-A) brethren. “What we have to do is play mistake-free football — that’s the turnover game, the penalty game — and hope that while we’re on the field, our best 11 can play harder and smarter than their best 11.”
Kickoff on Saturday is scheduled for 2 p.m. The game will be televised by ESPN3.
The Minutemen hold a 41-16-1 advantage in the career series with Maine, but the Black Bears have won three of their last four meetings, including rallying from 11 points down in the second half to win 32-21 in November two years ago, their most recent game.
Both teams opened play last weekend with Maine beating Norfolk State 23-6 in Virginia and UMass losing 45-0 in Wisconsin to a Badgers team ranked 23rd in the country. In that loss, 31 of the 49 UMass players who saw action were redshirt sophomores or younger.
“I would think in a lot of ways, they would be pleased with some of the things they saw,” Cosgrove said. “I mean, UMass is going to be big but Wisconsin is huge.”
Cosgrove was pleased with some of the things he saw Saturday in Virginia — special teams, defense, offensive line play, the emergence of young linebackers Christophe Mulumba and Cabrinni Goncalves — but disappointed with two fumbles (one on Maine’s first play), an interception and some poor decision-making.
“We were sloppy,” Cosgrove said. “We didn’t play with any consistency at any of the (offensive) positions other than the O-line. They were the most consistent group. We were up and down in the backfield, up and down at receiver and up and down at quarterback. And I think we didn’t play with a lot of football smarts. We had some down-and-distance situations where we were throwing the ball downfield rather than taking the 3-yard first-down gain.”
Tight end Justin Perillo, the team’s lone all-CAA first-team selection, did not have a single reception Saturday. Two passes were thrown behind him. Other times, Cosgrove said, Perillo was open but unnoticed by quarterback Marcus Wasilewski (15 of 28 for 209 yards with one TD and one interception).
“There was a real lack of meeting expectations for some of our players,” Cosgrove said. “I wasn’t happy or pleased with some of the things that went on, but the reality is we got a win and we’ll work on fixing that stuff this week.”
On special teams, kicker Sean Decloux converted two extra-point attempts and three of his four field-goal attempts. He also helped pin Norfolk State deep in its own territory, thanks to excellent coverage.
The same held true for the punt team, with Jeffrey Ondish averaging 40.3 yards on six punts, five of them inside the 20, only three of them returned for a total of 7 yards.
Maine also forced Norfolk State into missing a hurried kick following its only touchdown, thanks to an effective rush from defensive end Mike Cole and cornerback Kendall James. Punt returner Sherrod Baltimore, pressed into service because of an injury to Justin Flores, handled 12 balls with aplomb. Ricky Stevens nearly broke a kickoff return, gaining 37 yards, as Maine enjoyed good field position nearly all game.
“I thought they played exceptionally hard and exceptionally well,” Cosgrove said. “I say that as a blanket over our entire special teams operation. I like how our guys worked.”
NOTES: Offensive tackle Tyler Patterson, a senior from Owls Head, played much of the second half but none of the first Saturday at Norfolk State because of a suspension levied by the CAA. Patterson and two Rhode Island players were ejected on the next-to-last play of the 2012 season finale — a 55-6 Black Bears victory that sealed Rhody’s winless record — after a skirmish with punches thrown.
So will Patterson make his first collegiate start Saturday in Foxborough? “Maybe,” Cosgrove said.
Senior running back Terrel Walker, who played 10 games in 2011 and received a medical redshirt last season, is out for the year with a knee injury, effectively ending his college career.
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: