ORONO – The most surprising aspect to the University of Maine’s 5-1 start to the football season may be the success of the Black Bear running game despite huge losses to graduation and injury.
Gone from the offensive line are two all-conference players – tackle Josh Spearin and guard Chris Howley – and center Garret Williamson.
“All three were three-and-a-half year starters for us,” said head coach Jack Cosgrove, who in the past month also lost tailbacks Terrel Walker, Zedric Joseph and Rickey Stevens to the disabled list.
Even so, the Black Bears rolled up 337 yards on the ground in Saturday’s impressive 62-28 victory over visiting Delaware. Sophomore Nigel Jones led the way with 107 yards on 19 carries but John Ebeling (86 on nine), Isaiah Jones (82 on six) and Sacoy Malone (44 on eight) all gained significant yardage behind Maine’s offensive line.
“It speaks volumes to their work as a group,” Cosgrove said of tackles Tyler Patterson and Joe Hook, guards Jeff Gakos and Daniel Carriker, center Bruce Johnson and even tight end Justin Perillo. “They’ve taken great direction, great coaching and they come to work. It’s a typical O-line group with a lunch-pail mentality. And by far the biggest surprise of the season is their abilities and how well they’re doing especially as we’ve run the football.”
The victory over Delaware leaves the Black Bears at 2-0 in the Colonial Athletic Association, whose pre-season poll pegged them at eighth. The only other teams unbeaten in CAA play are Towson (6-0, 2-0) and Villanova (3-2, 2-0). They play each other this weekend in Maryland while Maine enjoys a bye week.
The Black Bears return to action Oct. 19th in Orono against William & Mary (3-2, 1-1).
Cosgrove said practice would continue for the Black Bears, but players will have the weekend off. Coaches can turn their attention to recruiting as well as preparing for William & Mary, which hosts the University of Pennsylvania Saturday.
“We’ll do all the kinds of things we normally do, but we’ll back off a little bit in terms of the volume,” said Cosgrove, speaking on the Monday morning CAA conference call. “I think that’s something everybody does during the course of a bye week.”
Ranked 23rd in two national Football Championship Subdivision polls last week, the Black Bears climbed in rankings released Monday afternoon.
The team moved up to 14th in The Sports Network poll and 17th in the Coaches poll.