ORONO — The University of Maine football team was walking to the locker room at halftime Saturday, trailing Bryant 21-7, when defensive back Najee Goode grabbed quarterback Dan Collins.

Collins had thrown three interceptions before closing the half with a last-play touchdown pass to Micah Wright.

“I wanted him to know we still believed in him,” said Goode. “Everybody is going to have a bad time in the game, ups and downs. Sometimes you need to show him, ‘We’re in your corner.'”

Collins responded to lead the Black Bears back to their first win of the season, 35-31. And he’s learning he has to become a more patient passer if Maine is to become a factor in the Colonial Athletic Association.

The Black Bears (1-3, 0-1 in the CAA) play at Delaware (2-2, 0-1) on Saturday. The Blue Hens have the league’s third-best pass defense, allowing 162 yards per game.

Collins has completed 50 percent of his passes (55 of 110) with four touchdown passes and six interceptions. He watched film from his last two games – including three interceptions in the second half of a 31-20 loss to James Madison (two leading to touchdowns) and three in the first half of the win over Bryant (one leading to a touchdown) – and saw where he has to improve. Too often he’s thrown deep into coverage.

The Black Bears are running a new offensive system under first-year coordinator Liam Coen, one that involves a lot more decision-making by the quarterback. He must now make two, three or four reads on each pass play.

“I think it’s a matter of … taking the completions as they come to me, making the for-sure throws instead of trying to fit something in down the field,” Collins said. “Also, against Bryant I ran a couple of times for a first down when nothing was there. I’ve got to add more of that to my game and I think I can.

“It’s all about being patient in the pocket and taking what the defense is giving me. That’s the next step I need to take to play the game I want to play.”

Coen understands Collins’ desire to throw deep. It’s a big part of the new offensive scheme, which uses play-action passes to set up deep throws. Collins is second in the CAA with 192 passing yards per game. That also makes Maine the CAA’s third-best passing team, behind Richmond (300.8 yards) and Towson (216.8).

“He throws it now better than a lot of people I’ve been around,” said Coen. “He’s got a live arm, a big-time arm, and that’s why his completion level is (not higher).”

That completion rate – just 51 percent for his career – also is a factor in Collins’ CAA ranking for passing efficiency, a complicated formula that also factors in touchdown passes, interceptions, completions and attempts. He’s seventh at 109.6.

“He needs to do a better job of, if priority No. 1 isn’t there, and priority two might not be there, take the check down,” said Coen. “Take the outlet. Take the running back. Take the tight end in the flat. You don’t need a big play every play.”

Coen said he changed the play calling in the second half of the Bryant game to provide Collins with easier decisions. Collins responded by going 7 of 10 for 99 yards and a touchdown.

The interceptions? Coen said they’re not all Collins’ fault. Nor have the coaches considered benching him.

“Yeah he might make a couple of mistakes in a game,” said Coen. “But he’s our guy. There’s nobody else going into a game. It’s not close. He’s the guy, and he will be the guy until he gets hurt. Knock on wood.”

Joe Harasymiak, Maine’s rookie head coach, said he sees the strides Collins is making every day in practice.

“Obviously the goal for Dan is that we’ve got to put a whole game together,” said Harasymiak. “That’s the same goal for our team. That’s some of the growing pains you’re going to go through with a team that’s just learning to win.”

Collins won the starting quarterback job each of the last three years after tight competitions in training camp with Drew Belcher. Collins’ season ended in 2014 with an injury in the sixth game. Last year he alternated with Belcher. This year he won the competition in training camp.

“Anybody who has gone through as much adversity as Dan has the last couple of years and can still keep his head high and remain optimistic, and come in day-in and day-out and take the hits that he’s taken and still make the throws he’s made, you have nothing but trust and respect for him,” said Wright. “That’s what I have for Dan.”

Collins also earns respect the hard way, like with the block he threw Saturday, springing Josh Mack for the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Mack had cut back to the left and Collins was the only Maine player there, pancaking the last defender who had a shot at tackling Mack.

“The team looks highly on that,” said Wright.

Collins just shrugged it off, noting that he often was the lead blocker as quarterback in the Wing-T his high school team ran.

“I mean, I’ve always done that,” he said. “If there’s an extra guy to block, I’m not going to shy from it. That’s how I play.”

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