Saturday, March 8, 2014
ORONO — This weekend is about business for the Maine football team. This weekend is about shoring up an inconsistent second half, about continuing to establish the program's identity this year and about seizing a certain opportunity that comes with playing Pitt, a Football Bowl Subdivision program.
"This is a great opportunity," Maine safety Trevor Coston said. "I'm kind of used to it now. I've been here when we've played Iowa and Syracuse twice. It's nothing too different but as a team, we're focusing on us. We're not worried that it's an FBS team or that it's Pitt. We're focusing on us. If we do what we have to do, I think it will be a good game."
The Black Bears practiced this afternoon - Wednesday is typically one of the week's two full-speed, high-intensity practices - in unseasonably chilly and wet weather, but there was some incentive to working out in the rain, as Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove encouraged his team to stay warm and stay loose, to fend off any injuries prior to Saturday's game at Pitt.
What the Black Bears have to focus on is continuing to play disciplined football - Maine took only two penalties in Saturday's win against Bryant - establishing field position through special teams (this is where Coston comes in, as he found holes created for him on punt returns) and the offensive line protecting quarterback Warren Smith, who can produce in a scramble but who will have to face a Pitt defense that has had at least one sack in its last 13 games.
This week's emphasis in practice for the Black Bears has been consistency and execution.
"We worked on our focus," Coston said. "Last week, the first half of practice we had a lot of enthusiasm but it all died down. This week, we've been big on focus and eliminating our mistakes in the second part of practice."
In the wake of the second-half struggles in Saturday's 28-13 win against Bryant, Cosgrove likened this year's Pitt team to another Big East program Maine has faced in the past - Syracuse, which Maine faced in 2009 and 2010.
"Probably a bigger and better version of that," Cosgrove said. "And we've got that dilemma of not finishing. You address it by addressing it head on. Don't skirt the issue. We don't do that here. We talked about it. (The players) heard about it from me. "
"Now, it's about improving and building on our identity."
For Maine defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Joe Rossi, the trip to Pittsburgh is a homecoming. Rossi is a Pittsburgh native and a graduate of Central Catholic High School - an all-boys school and a perennial football powerhouse that's a few blocks up Fifth Avenue from the University of Pittsburgh. (Central Catholic has a bit of a reputation as a quarterback school, producing NFL Hall of Famer Dan Marino, former St. Louis Rams quarterback Marc Bulger and current Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri.)
This will be the second game Rossi has coached in Pittsburgh. When he coached at Thiel College in Greenville, Pa., the Tomcats played at Carnegie Mellon University - just up the street from Central Catholic.
"It's different because this is going to Heinz Field," Rossi said. "There are going to be a lot more people at the game and a lot more people who care about the game. But at the end of the day, it's still football. The only difference is that the environment is still there. The whistle blows, and that's the only thing, that's the only game you care about. But the difference is the surroundings. It's magnified with pre-game and post-game, when you're playing at Heinz Field."
The New England Football Writers Gridiron Club of Greater Boston honored Maine tailback Pushaun Brown with the Gold Helmet Award this week.
Brown, a senior, ran for 146 yards on 26 carries and scored two touchdowns in Saturday's 28-13 win over Bryant.