ORONO — The good news for the University of Maine football team is that the Black Bears are not playing a Football Bowl Subdivision team this week, as they did in their opening two losses.

That doesn’t mean the task will be any easier for Maine in its home opener.

James Madison University (2-1) brings its high-powered offense to Alfond Stadium at noon Saturday. The Dukes – ranked 11th in two FCS national polls, seventh in another – are averaging 54.7 points per game (yes, you read that right) and 539.7 yards of total offense.

And the Dukes are doing it the old-fashioned way. In an era of aerial offense, James Madison pounds the ball, rushing for 339.7 yards per game, second-best in the nation.

“We have to come out physical and tough,” said senior defensive tackle Darius Greene. “They’re going to punch us in the mouth. We have to punch back.”

With a bye last week, the Black Bears have had time to heal any injuries and regroup mentally after two difficult losses.

“It felt good, get your body back to being in tip-top shape and getting your mental game back to where you’re supposed to be,” said quarterback Dan Collins. “I think those first two games taught us a lot about who we were and who we can be.”

Maine has now lost six consecutive games, dating to last Oct. 24. Senior defensive end Pat Ricard said some doubts started to creep into the minds of younger players after a 45-3 loss two weeks ago to a talented Toledo team. “I think our coaches did a good job re-establishing our will to win,” he said. “We’re going to be good. Some of the younger players were down, but the energy is coming back.”

James Madison scored on its first seven drives in its opening 80-7 win over Morehead State, its first five drives in a 56-21 win over Central Connecticut, and its first three drives in last week’s 56-28 loss to North Carolina – a game in which JMU led 21-14 in the second quarter.

And the Dukes can score in many ways – they’ve returned only three punts this year, each for a touchdown.

“It’s a well-coached team that does well in all phases,” said Joe Harasymiak, Maine’s first-year head coach. “They grab your attention on film. They have our attention.”

The Dukes have a strong defensive unit too. They are giving up only 99 yards rushing per game, second in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Maine’s task is to control the ball with a balanced offense, which means the Black Bears need to run the ball effectively. But Maine is also getting an octane boost to its offense.

Sophomore wide receiver Micah Wright, last year’s leading receiver and a second-team all-CAA selection), returns after serving a two-game suspension.

“He adds that highlight-reel guy,” said Harasymiak. “He’s a take-the-top-off the defense guy, our big-play receiver. He proved that last year.”

Wright caught 61 passes last year, with five going for touchdowns. He averaged 13.4 yards per catch.

“He’s a very explosive receiver,” said Collins. “He’s more of a lead-by-example type of guy. When guys get around him, they start to match his ability. He’s a great tool for us.”

He’s exactly the type of player – someone who can make a 1-on-1 play downfield – the Black Bears need if they’re going to fulfill the vision of new offensive coordinator Liam Coen.

“We want to be a team that will run the ball to control the clock,” said Harasymiak. “And be explosive in the passing game.”

At times this year, they’ve shown the ability to do both, passing well in a close loss to Connecticut and running well in the loss to Toledo. But to beat James Madison, said Harasymiak, “We just need to put the whole thing together.”

Coen said if you look at James Madison’s past, the teams that do well against them keep the score down and control the clock. Four backs – Darius Davis-Ray, Zaire Williams, Nigel Beckford and Josh Mack – will continue to share the running load for Maine, at least until one steps up.

“No one has really taken over the job,” said Coen. “They’re all good backs. And I trust them. Now they need to make some plays on Saturday.”

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