Sunday, April 20, 2014
ORONO — As preseason training camp neared its conclusion, sophomore tailback Nigel Jones wondered what kind of playing time might come his way this fall.
Ahead of him on the University of Maine depth chart were three tailbacks, and Jones was concerned that a thigh bruise might further limit his opportunities in practice.
Fast forward one month and Jones seemed to be the only guy standing after injuries felled all three runners ahead of him. Senior Terrel Walker (knee) and redshirt freshman Zedric Joseph (leg) were lost for the the season. Senior Rickey Stevens (ribs) and was sure to miss two games, perhaps more.
“When everybody started going down, it was kind of like a lot more weight fell on my shoulders,” said Jones, a sophomore from Pleasantville, N.J. “I felt like I really had to step up.”
Step up? In his two starts, both against Football Championship Subdivision opponents ranked among the nation’s top 25, Jones scored six touchdowns and ran for 222 yards as the Black Bears knocked off No. 22 Richmond 28-21 in Virginia and No. 24 Delaware 62-28 in Orono.
Those victories helped propel Maine (5-1) from a team picked to finish eighth in the 11-team Colonial Athletic Association and ignored in national polls to its current standing as 14th in one poll (The Sports Network) and 17th (coaches) in another.
“We really had to lean on Nigel at the end of the Northwestern game and the whole Richmond game,” said Coach Jack Cosgrove. “I would say we’ve negotiated some possible trouble. It’s one of the few times where we needed the depth and we’ve had some depth.”
After a bye week that coincided with the university’s fall break weekend, the Black Bears embark on the second half of their 12-game regular schedule Saturday against William & Mary (4-2) at Alfond Stadium.
Stevens returned to practice this week and is expected to join Jones at tailback. The blowout of Delaware also allowed redshirt freshman Sacoy Maloy and sophomore Isaiah Jones to get valuable experience in that role.
“It’s a relief,” Nigel Jones said. “I love having those guys with me. I look up to Rick. When I first came here, he was the guy who showed me how to do everything – watch film, helped me learn the plays. It’s great having him back.”
Because the bye week neatly split the regular season, now seems an appropriate time to hand out midterm grades for the Black Bears, who already have matched last year’s win total.
LINE: LT Tyler Patterson, C Bruce Johnson and RG Dan Carriker joined veterans LG Jeff Gakos and RT Joe Hook to form a more cohesive quintet than expected. Maine is sixth in the CAA in rushing yards and has allowed only six sacks. Grade: B-plus.
RUNNING BACK: Nigel Jones has been the one constant, but Rickey Stevens and Zedric Joseph have contributed major minutes. Ball security has been decent. Grade: A-minus.
QUARTERBACK: Marcus Wasilewski has shown an impressive ability to sweep away mistakes and bounce back from such mistakes as end-zone interceptions (three) and pick sixes (two). A coach on the field with poise, knowledge and coolness under fire. Grade: A-minus.
RECEIVER: WRs Derrick Johnson and Damarr Aultman, TE Justin Perillo and slot John Ebeling all have at least 20 receptions. Art Williams and Jordan Dunn add depth and speed. Downfield blocking could be more consistent. Grade: B.
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