September 14, 2013

It's tailback by committee for UMaine

And with Nigel Jones, Rickey Stevens and Zedric Joseph, three really seems like company.

By Glenn Jordan gjordan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Nigel Jones

Rickey Stevens

Additional Photos Below

SATURDAY'S GAME

WHO: Maine (2-0) vs. Bryant (2-0)

WHEN: 3:30 p.m.

WHERE: ALfond Stadium, Orono

RADIO: WLOB-AM (1310)

MAINE OUTLOOK: This is the only September home game for the Black Bears, who are between FBS opponents UMass (a 24-14 victory at Gillette Stadium) and No. 17 Northwestern (in Evanston, Ill.). TB Rickey Stevens needs 69 yards rushing to reach 1,000 for his career. DE Michael Cole is 4.5 sacks shy of the school record of 27.5. QB Marcus Wasilewski averages 238 yards passing and 68.5 running. WR Derrick Johnson leads the team with 13 catches. TB Zedric Joseph has 150 yards receiving. P Jeffrey Ondish and K Sean Decloux continue to impress. This marks the third meeting between Maine and Bryant. The Black Bears won 28-13 in Orono in 2011 and 51-3 last fall in Rhode Island.

BRYANT OUTLOOK: Now in their second season as a Division I program, the Bulldogs are coming off a 34-7 victory over Assumption in which they blocked three punts and returned two for TDs. They opened with a 17-16 victory over Holy Cross, coming from behind on a Tom Alberti FG with 38 seconds left. Nine defensive and eight offensive starters return from a team that won four of its last five after starting 0-6. QB Mike Westerhaus has thrown for 425 yards and three TDs in two games. WR Jordan Harris caught 15 TD passes and gained 1,243 yards last season -- but missed the Maine game with an injury. DL Jeff Covitz led the Northeast Conference in tackles for loss, with 17.

-- Glenn Jordan

Blocking and pass receiving are also part of the job, and Joseph has done the latter so well that he leads the team in receiving yardage.

He turned a wheel route into an 85-yard touchdown reception in the opening 23-6 victory over Norfolk State, and broke two big screen passes against UMass, including one immediately following an offensive pass interference penalty that negated an apparent touchdown by Derrick Johnson.

But the main job of the tailback is to, as is reinforced on the walls of Maine's locker room: Pound the Rock. A successful running game opens doors to play-action passing and it allows Maine's defense a chance to rest.

"With us splitting reps, our bodies are staying fresh," Joseph said.

"On a 12- or 13-play drive, the defense is playing all 13 whereas we've got three different backs playing three or four (snaps) at a time. It's hard for them to keep up."

Staying fresh and staying healthy becomes even more important with a 12-game season -- a calendar quirk that hasn't happened since 2008 -- that includes two FBS opponents with distinct size advantages.

"This definitely preserves us better for the long haul," Stevens said. "We're all strong and ready to go."

Cosgrove's only tailback concern so far -- aside from losing Terrel Walker to a season-ending injury -- is that Stevens has lost a fumble in each of the first two games after not losing the handle all of last season.

"It is troubling, because we're a team that really emphasizes ball security," Cosgrove said. "You watch our players in practice. We work on, after the runner is secured, getting (the ball) pulled out on defense. We think that's a great trade-off, the defense practicing that art and the offense being skilled enough to hold on to it."

Players known to fumble are often targeted by opposing defenses, making it even more challenging to secure the ball.

"Rickey's working at it and we're hopeful that those are the last times he puts the ball on the ground this year," Cosgrove said.

"Make no mistake about it. Turnovers are what creates winners and losers."

A year ago, fumbles by tailback David Hood in the first two games created an opportunity for Stevens to win the starting job. This season, with Joseph and Jones getting plenty of carries, the starter isn't necessarily the finisher.

"Those are my brothers," Stevens said of his fellow tailbacks. "We all worked hard for this opportunity and we all feed off each other's energy. Whatever the coaches feel should go on, I'm just happy to be a part of it."

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

gjordan@pressherald.com

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH


 

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Zedric Joseph

  


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