ORONO — When Chris Ferguson is struggling, as he is now, he looks to his favorite NFL quarterback for solutions.

And after throwing six interceptions and no touchdown passes in the University of Maine’s last two football games, Ferguson is studying Tom Brady.

“I was just looking at stuff from Tom Brady today, his quotes and things like that,” said Ferguson, the 19-year-old redshirt freshman who won the Black Bears’ quarterback job in training camp. “Watching him on film is huge for me. I watched a lot of him in the offseason. I watch the way he does things, how calm and cool he is, the way he prepares. His work ethic, too.”

Maine returns home to play at Alfond Stadium for the first time in over a month Saturday, taking on Colonial Athletic Association foe Rhode Island at 3:30 p.m. The Black Bears (1-3) have lost their last two games and are 0-3 in the league. Ferguson, who threw six touchdown passes in the team’s first two games, knows he has to play better.

He’s coming off a 31-0 loss at Villanova in which he threw three interceptions and was replaced by Max Staver in the third quarter. “Obviously, it just wasn’t my day against Villanova,” said Ferguson. “It came down to a couple of plays that really weren’t complicated – just trust your reads and trust what you’re doing and what you practiced. That’s what it came down to. Take those plays out of the picture and it’s a different game and we’re maybe not having this conversation.”

He did complete 15 of 24 passes, but two of his interceptions led to Villanova touchdowns on short drives. He also struggled on third down (4 for 11).

“I just have to slow things down, especially on third down,” said Ferguson. “And that definitely comes with experience.”

And that’s something Ferguson is still gaining. He didn’t start at LaSalle College High School in Pennsylvania until his senior year. Counting his four games at Maine, Ferguson has started 16 games over three years.

“I have to remember that he’s just a freshman,” said Joe Harasymiak, Maine’s second-year head coach. “I took him out of that game because I didn’t want any more damage to our team and his psyche. It’s like a pitcher in baseball. It’s not his day, take him out. The next time his turn comes up in the rotation, start him. For Chris, that’s Saturday.

“I have confidence in him. There’s nothing more important in the world to the kid than football.”

And his teammates expect him to do better.

“Everybody goes through slumps, everybody faces adversity,” said Najee Goode, a senior cornerback and one of the Black Bears’ leaders. “He’s a young guy. He loves the game and that’s what I love about him. He wants to get better. He wants to be great.”

“We’re behind him,” said Darrius Hart, a senior safety. “He’s going to make mistakes. When I was a freshman, I made mistakes. We’re going to push him every day in practice to get him there.”

Ferguson, who is completing 52 percent of his passes (66 of 126) for 689 yards, knows he has to make smarter decisions, like throwing the ball away on third down.

“Then we get a punt and that makes all the difference in the world,” he said. “Our defense, if we put them on the minus-20 (the opponent’s 20-yard line), they’re going to make a stop. If I put them in plus-territory (on Maine’s side of midfield), they can still make a stop, but it’s going to be tougher.”

It should come as no surprise that Ferguson’s best game came in the opener at New Hampshire, when he threw for 239 yards and three touchdowns. No one had seen him before. Now teams have video of him, see his strengths and his weaknesses, and are stacking the defensive front to take away Maine’s running game and force him to pass.

“This game, and Chris knows this, is unlike any other sport in the world,” said Harasymiak. “You live and die by your (QB).”

Maine will be facing, at least statistically, an easier defense than it has the last two games. James Madison gives up 231.2 yards per game (third in the nation) and Villanova gives up 283.8 (14th). Rhode Island (1-4, 0-2 CAA) gives up 415.2 yards per game (11th in the 12-team CAA).

Ferguson said every Division I defense is a challenge.

“It’s gut checks at times,” he said. “There’s going to be a learning process every time out, no matter what happens. Even if you win, there’s going to be stuff you see and can learn from. It can be humbling game, a humbling experience. It’s hard to cope with. But if you can take what you need from (each game), it’s all part of the process.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

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