ORONO — Maine’s offensive line has been undermanned and in over its head for much of the season.

Its biggest test comes Saturday.

And junior center Bruce Johnson, the mainstay up front for the Black Bears, can’t wait.

“If we can dominate the line of scrimmage, that just shows how much progress we’ve made,” Johnson said. “I like having to play up to the talent.

“Whenever you play guys that are not that good, it’s not that fun of a game. When you play (a team) with four defensive linemen across the board that are all good, you can see how good you are and where you have to get to.”

The problem for Maine is that No. 8 Richmond (7-2, 4-1 Colonial Athletic Association), its opponent Saturday at Alfond Stadium, rotates eight defensive linemen. They are large, experienced and well-rested.

On third downs, the Spiders can bring in seniors Evan Kelly and Justin Williamson, who have five sacks apiece. On running downs, they can call on 348-pound Adam Farley and 294-pound sophomore Winston Craig to plug things up. They can throw speed at you or they can throw weight at you.

Last week, Richmond bottled up Villanova in a 10-9 win. Those same Wildcats put up 41 points in a victory at Maine last month.

If Maine (3-5, 2-3) has any chance at pulling off an upset, it must find a way to neutralize that defensive line.

“They tear off blocks better than any group we’ve seen. They don’t stay blocked,” Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove said of Richmond’s defense. “Bruce Johnson, he’s going to have a nasty man on top of him all day long. Bruce is going to be tested and it’s good to see that. We’ve said he’s our best guy. Let’s see our best guy in action.”

Junior Daniel Carriker is expected to return from injury and man one guard spot. Freshmen make up the rest of the line, though, with Daniel Burrows at the other guard and Isaiah Brooks and Jamil Demby at the tackles. Still, Maine has had its two best rushing performances in its last two games, a loss against Albany and a win at Rhode Island, despite relying on rookies in the backfield – Drew Belcher at quarterback and Nigel Beckford and Jerickson Fedrick at tailback.

“The key for us is to really trust our technique and stay on our blocks and run our feet and finish until the echo of the whistle so we can spring Beckford or Belch,” said Burrows, who will be starting his third game after injuries to Carriker and Chase Hoyt.

Burrows, a redshirt freshman from Haverhill, Massachusetts, is steadily gaining confidence. Cosgrove asked him to give the scouting report on Richmond to his linemates this week. The coach liked what he heard.

“They’re babies. They shouldn’t be playing,” Cosgrove said of Burrows, Brooks and Demby. “These three kids could be four-year starters. That’s scary at the front end but exciting at the back end.

“We’ve made progress. We’re going to commit to the run. We have to. We need to keep our defense off the field.”

Johnson will need to lead the way. The two-year starter is the steadying influence in the middle of the chaos for Maine’s offensive line. Burrows said Johnson pulled him aside before his first start, against Albany, and gave him the pep talk that enabled him to perform well.

Johnson is level-headed and calm, constantly asking his linemates what they’re seeing from the defense before calling out his presnap signals. He learned a valuable lesson midway through last season, after a game in which he was consistently jumping offsides.

“I wasn’t hearing the quarterback and was hearing the defense say things that sounded like, ‘Go.’ It was hard for me. I had to find a way that I could key into the quarterback,” Johnson said. “I started to stare at one piece of the ground every time. That has helped me stay focused on the cadence.”

He’s also learned the key to good blocking is cheating – without getting caught.

“You have to hold in this game nowadays. If you don’t hold, the defense is going to make plays,” Johnson explained. “It’s one thing to have your hands outside and hold, which you’ll get called for. As long as your hands are inside on the chest plate and you’re grabbing cloth, you’ll be fine. That pretty much holds the defensive line up from making plays.

“You make a lot of plays by holding inside.”

Whatever it takes.