KINGSTON, R.I. — Maine safety Khari Al-Mateen dived twice to get his hand on the football last Saturday, breaking up two Albany pass attempts.

Jonathan Louis almost lived out every defensive lineman’s dream, standing near the Albany goal line with the ball heading right at his midsection. He couldn’t corral it, and thus was denied a chance to score his first Black Bear touchdown.

Those snapshots from Maine’s latest loss reveal what is missing from this year’s defense, which has been solid most of the season but hasn’t been able to make the game-turning play when the opportunity has been there.

“It’s the difference between a good defense and a great defense,” Al-Mateen said.

“A good defense, they’re where they have to be, they make tackles, they don’t give up big plays. A great defense capitalizes on the other team’s mistakes and turns (them) into points of their own.”

The Maine defense gets its best chance to find the end zone Saturday when it visits a Rhode Island team that has coughed up the football 23 times. While Maine (2-5, 1-3 Colonial Athletic Association) was unable to generate turnovers in its loss to Albany, Rhode Island (0-7, 0-3) was throwing five interceptions in a 37-0 loss at Richmond.


Rhode Island starting quarterback Mack Lowrie is out because a shoulder injury. Fellow freshman James Caparell got his first start last week and was pulled in the third quarter after his fourth interception was returned for a touchdown. Junior Kolt Peavey came on and moved the Rams into scoring position before being intercepted in the end zone.

It’s been that kind of year for Rhode Island.

“It’s reasonably embarrassing,” Rams Coach Jim Fleming said. “We need to be able to match some of the takeaways. That’s where we’ve been in a little bit of a drought.”

Maine is dead even in turnover margin, thanks to a conservative offensive approach that has resulted in only two interceptions. The Black Bear defense has been the strength of the team but has forced only seven turnovers in seven games, none in the past two.

Maine has intercepted four passes this season, but only one has been by a defensive back, freshman Najee Goode.

Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove would love to see that statistic change, but he predicted Rhode Island will be extra cautious with the football after being burned five times last week. He doesn’t want his players to abandon their fundamentals in pursuit of turnovers.


“If you start worrying about interceptions, you take away from the coverage and all the things that they’re doing so well,” Cosgrove said of his defense. “The interceptions are a byproduct of that. Certainly, we want to get our hand on (the football) more and catch it rather than bat it down. Al-Mateen extended twice to knock it down. Yeah, it would have been awesome if he could have extended himself another inch and caught it. But you’ve got to be happy he made the play he did.”

Maine was credited with seven pass breakups in keeping Albany’s passing game in check. Great Dane senior quarterback Will Fiacchi completed only 12 of 30 passes for 120 yards and one late touchdown.

The Black Bears know they should have an easier time of it Saturday.

“It’s a good opportunity going against a team that struggles turning the ball over. So we’re going to hope to capitalize on that,” said Al-Mateen, a senior.

“We’re getting in the right position, we’re just not putting that period on it. We’re just not ending it all. When the ball comes to us, we’ve got to have a sense of urgency to go get it and score after. We must have the attitude all the time that we’re supposed to have the ball, that the ball is ours.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.