ORONO — On Nigel Beckford’s first carry of the season for the Maine football team, he ran into a tangle of linemen, zipped out of the pile and gained 16 yards.

Two weeks later, he was in the clear near the goal line, plowed through a hapless defender and scored a 28-yard touchdown.

Those plays – in a loss at Tulane and a victory against Rhode Island – reveal the agility and the power of the sophomore running back.

But Coach Jack Cosgrove said Tuesday he’s far from satisfied with Beckford’s contributions, even though the statistics look good (47 carries for 224 yards and a 4.8 average).

“He left a lot of yards on the field,” Cosgrove said of Beckford’s 75-yard performance in Saturday’s 48-17 loss at Richmond. “Nigel’s a guy I have really high expectations of. So we’ve got to help him do a little bit better job sometime pressing the hole and trusting what’s happening in front of him. He sometime gets too creative.”

Beckford, who sat much of the second half at Richmond with a bruised right shoulder, will be asked to shoulder the load again Saturday when Maine (1-3, 1-1 Colonial Athletic Association) visits Albany (2-3, 1-1). It’s what he is yearning to do, provided he earns his coach’s trust.

“I’m getting a lot of reps but it’s not doing a huge toll on my body at all,” Beckford said. “I want to help the team out more, be an every-down back. ”

Beckford missed the first game of the season at Boston College when he was suspended for violating the university’s student-athlete code of conduct. He stayed in Orono and watched the 24-3 loss on TV, a painful afternoon, he said.

He returned at Tulane and gained 58 yards rushing and 15 receiving. But Beckford’s initial big gain may have been the worst thing that could have happened, Cosgrove said. After that, he became too eager to abandon the hole that plays were designed to run through and seek a different path.

“He had a quicker bounce-out, jump-out mentality and that hurt him,” Cosgrove said. “The kid does run with his eyes. But I think just a little bit more discipline from him that way would really get him to the spot where we feel like he’s one of the better backs in the conference.”

Beckford followed that game by rushing for 91 yards and two touchdowns against Rhode Island, when his primary backup was Darian Davis-Ray. But Davis-Ray suffered an ankle injury late in that game, and junior Sacoy Malone got his first extensive playing time Saturday. Beckford carried only one time for 2 yards in the second half.

Malone picked up 38 yards on 10 carries, including a 4-yard touchdown on an inside zone play in the third quarter. Those were the final points the Black Bears managed, however.

“The win would have made it feel a lot more better,” Malone said of his first career touchdown. “It definitely gave us the momentum. So that was a good feeling, knowing I’m helping my team out.”

The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Malone, a native of Springfield, Massachusetts, has been hampered by injuries throughout his four years in Orono, including a sprained ankle that kept him off the field for much of summer camp.

Finally healthy, he can be a prototypical third-down back, Cosgrove said, with his ability to catch passes, pick up blockers or run to the outside. He also returns kickoffs for the Black Bears.

“It’s been very frustrating for me,” Malone said of the injuries. “But it felt good to get into the game against Richmond. I started getting in a rhythm.”

Malone knows his role is to spell Beckford, however. He sees Beckford as a role model, even though Malone is two years older.

“He runs really hard and he never really complains about anything,” Malone said of Beckford. “I look to learn a lot from him, try and do what he does.”

Beckford, reserved by nature, appreciates that people look up to him for the hard work he puts in. But he knows he needs to improve his footwork and to be more patient in letting his blockers do their work in front of him.

Maine’s offense, averaging only 13.5 points per game, also needs to be more productive, he said, starting against an Albany team that won 20-7 last season in Orono.

“I don’t think there’s any particular challenge with their defense. Not if we prepare the way we should,” Beckford said of his scouting report for the Great Danes.


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