UMaine Coach Nick Charlton says of Saturday’s game at Villanova: “We’re going to find out a little bit of what we’re made of.” Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

ORONO — Listen to the coaches, and the University of Maine’s football game Saturday at Villanova is simply “the next game on the schedule.”

In reality, it’s much, much bigger for the Black Bears.

Simply put, Maine needs to beat the Wildcats if it wants to keep its Colonial Athletic Association title hopes – and possibly its FCS playoff hopes – alive. The 2-2 Black Bears are 0-1 in the league, having lost to Towson 45-23 at home on Sept. 14.

Villanova, meanwhile, defeated Towson 52-45 in overtime last Saturday. The Wildcats, picked to finish ninth in the CAA preseason poll, are clearly the surprise of the season at 4-0 overall, 1-0 in the league.

A loss Saturday would drop the defending league champion Maine to 0-2 in the conference. And two losses is usually one too many for a championship in a league as competitive as the CAA. A loss also would mean Maine would need to go on a strong run to finish the season and earn a playoff berth. A win gets Maine back into the conference race.

Not that Maine Coach Nick Charlton wants his players thinking about any of that.

“I’m not trying to look at it in terms of where we’re at in the conference and in the standings,” Charlton said after Tuesday’s morning practice. “That’s not my concern. We’re playing Villanova and we’ve got to play well and that’s the way we’re looking at it.”

But, he also said, “We’re going to find out a little bit of what we’re made of here.”

Villanova, ranked eighth and 13th in the two FCS national polls, is averaging a CAA-best 42.2 points per game. The Wildcats lead the league in rushing, with 255.8 yards per game, with Justin Covington leading the league with 556 yards, averaging 9.1 yards a rush. Transfer quarterback Daniel Smith has thrown 13 touchdown passes and is coming off his best game against Towson when he rushed for 70 yards and threw for 279.

Villanova’s defense, meanwhile, ranks second in the CAA in sacks (10), points allowed (19.8) and rushing defense (94.5 yards per game).

Villanova Coach Mark Ferrante, however, doesn’t want his players to get caught up in their early success.

“We’re focusing on the task at hand,” he said in Monday’s CAA conference call. “And that’s on our next opponent.”

And, as Charlton said, “I think we have a pretty good team too.”

The Black Bears, ranked 12th and 16th in the national polls, have the second-best passing offense in the CAA (326 yards per game) and best pass defense (152.8 yards per game). Their special teams are also dangerous, as evidenced by Earnest Edwards’ two kickoff returns for touchdowns in a 35-21 victory at Colgate last week.

Maine’s players know the stakes. But they are following their coach’s lead and not talking about records or conference standings.

“That how Coach Nick is, which I totally get,” said senior running back Joe Fitzpatrick, who rushed for 102 yards last week and now has 1,076 career rushing yards. “He really wants us to just focus on what’s ahead of us, focus on the task at hand. But you have an understand of what’s in front of you. We understand what this game means and the position it can put us in.”

“People know the parameters,” said junior quarterback Chris Ferguson. “You can talk about them but you can’t be worrying about that when you’re trying to execute a play.”

Senior defensive tackle Charles Mitchell believes the Black Bears were too tight in their loss to Towson.

“We’re not going to press like we pressed against Towson,” he said. “It’s all about us this week … Take it day by day, rep by rep. … Once you’re able to master those reps, you’re going to play like you practice. Proper practice is going to equal great performance.”

Last year, Maine defeated Villanova, 13-10, in Orono when Kenny Doak kicked a 52-yard field goal as time expired. Two years ago, the Black Bears lost 31-0 at Villanova.

Senior cornerback Manny Patterson said it is important to maintain a regular routine this week.

“You shouldn’t try to overforce anything,” he said. “We’re going to watch film as intently as we have been, practice hard. Then everything will fall into place.”

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