UMaine quarterback Chris Ferguson was 23 of 29 for 423 yards and threw for three TDs in last week’s 42-14 season-opening win against Sacred Heart. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

It’s easy to get caught up in the University of Maine’s 42-14 season-opening football victory over Sacred Heart last week. The Black Bears were nearly flawless.

But this week? They’re going to need to take their game to another level.

Maine (1-0) is traveling south to play Georgia Southern (0-1) at 6 p.m. Saturday. The teams have met three times, all in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, all ending with the Eagles winning, the last in 2011.

Georgia Southern is now a member of the Sun Belt Conference, playing in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Schools in the FBS can offer more scholarships (85) than FCS schools (63), have larger rosters, and often have larger coaching staffs and better facilities.

That difference in roster depth and size is often the difference in games between FBS and FCS schools.

Nick Charlton emerges onto the field last week before his first game as UMaine head coach. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“A lot of times it’s about finishing the game,” said Nick Charlton, Maine’s first-year head coach. “A lot of times you get worn down up front and at the skill positions, and then you have a hard time winning those one-on-one battles. You’ve got to be able to withstand that and get to the fourth quarter with a chance to win.

“We believe this is a winnable game. For us, it’s about having that longevity and being able to physically take on an FBS opponent.”

Maine has had limited success against FBS schools, with three wins in 20 games. But the Black Bears picked one up last year, defeating Western Kentucky 31-28, also in Week 2 of the season. Later this season they’ll play Liberty, another FBS team.

And while FCS schools often use FBS games as a measuring stick, Maine junior quarterback Chris Ferguson said the Black Bears can’t think that way.

“We just look at it as the next game,” said Ferguson, who was the Colonial Athletic Association offensive player of the week after going 23-for-29 for 423 yards and three touchdowns last week. “They’re the next team on the schedule. We’re going down there to get a win and that’s really it.”

Georgia Southern is coming off a 55-3 loss to Louisiana State, the sixth-ranked team in the country. The Black Bears can’t get caught up in that.

“They’re a physical group, big, fast and sound,” said Charlton. “We’ve got our work cut out.”

The Eagles run a triple-option offense, something the Black Bears don’t face often. They will run the ball relentlessly. And while the Black Bears led the nation in rush defense a year ago, that doesn’t guarantee success.

The pressure is on Maine’s perimeter defenders, particularly ends Kayon Whitaker and Jamehl Wiley, and linebackers Jaron Grayer and Adrian Otero. They have to set the edge to the defense and force the running backs inside, where Maine’s pursuit can close the gaps.

“They’re one of those offenses where they’re not afraid to let you know what’s coming,” said Grayer. “They’re saying, ‘You’ve got to stop us.’ We know what’s coming. And they know we know what’s coming.”

Charlton said Maine started preparing for the triple option weeks ago.

“I think it plays to our strength,” he said. “Now we just have to execute.”

 

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