University of Maine Coach Nick Charlton: “We need to use the bye (week) to our advantage. We still have everything in front of us. We feel we should be a playoff team. We’ve got to take care of business.” Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The University of Maine’s football team is seeking answers this week.

Coming off a 33-17 loss last Saturday to Villanova in a game that wasn’t even that close, the Black Bears are in their bye week, standing with a 2-3 record, 0-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Their season is now in the balance. They have seven games remaining and while a repeat of their 2018 CAA championship is unlikely – only twice since 2010 has the CAA champ had two losses – they still have a slim shot at the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. But they would need to finish with a flourish, perhaps winning at least six more games.

It’s a daunting task, though not one that the players or coaches are thinking about now.

“We need to reset and get better, physically and otherwise,” said Nick Charlton, Maine’s first-year head coach. “I think the bye comes at a good time. We need to use the bye to our advantage. We still have everything in front of us. We feel we should be a playoff team. We’ve got to take care of business.”

Coming off a 10-4 season that saw the Black Bears reach the FCS semifinals, expectations were high for the team entering the season. And after a 42-14 win over Sacred Heart in the opener, they got even higher, reaching No. 6 in the two national FCS polls.

But since then, Maine has struggled to play well consistently. They have, at times, shown flashes of brilliance. But more often they have broken down at key moments. The running game, a staple of Maine’s offense, hasn’t got going. The run defense, best in the nation last year (allowing 79.2 yards per game), hasn’t been able to stop anyone, allowing 198.0 yards per game. Tackling has been an issue.

Charlton said that last week, when Villanova rolled up 413 yards of total offense, “we gave up about 200 on missed tackles.”

Maine has six CAA games remaining, starting at noon on Oct. 12 at home against Richmond, and a game against FBS opponent Liberty University. The combined record of those teams is 13-19, with only Albany (3-2) and Liberty (3-2) sitting above .500.

Anything less than an 8-4 record to end the season would put a playoff berth in jeopardy. But the Black Bears aren’t thinking that far ahead.

“We’re trying to enjoy the bye week, we’re trying to get things right, we want to get things right for Richmond,” said junior quarterback Chris Ferguson. “We’ve got to take care of us, do the little things right on and off the field. We’ve got to keep fighting … We’ve got seven games to take care of business.”

Ferguson knows the improvement has to start with him. He has completed 57.5 percent of his passes for 1,622 yards and seven touchdowns. But he has also thrown eight interceptions – six in the CAA losses to Towson and Villanova. Four of those have led to touchdowns.

“I’ve got to take care of the ball better,” said Ferguson. “If I have to throw the ball away, make a different throw, those are the types of things I’m looking at.”

The Black Bears have the CAA’s second-best passing offense, with 331.8 yards per game. Their receivers are averaging 14.6 yards per catch. The offensive line has given up only five sacks.

But the running game is averaging only 98.2 yards a game, only 3.8 yards a rush. Injuries have been a factor. Sophomore Jordan Rowell, a transfer from Northern Illinois, has yet to play after suffering a knee injury in the team’s first preseason scrimmage. Emmanuel Reed, a grad transfer from Buffalo, had only one carry last week because of an ankle injury. Both are expected to be back against Richmond.

Defensively, the season-ending injury suffered by linebacker Deshawn Stevens in the opener has been devastating, his presence missed not only because of his play on the field but his leadership. In addition, linebacker Jaron Grayer has missed two games with a shoulder injury. He should be back against the Spiders.

But it is missed tackles that have been the problem. Charlton said Maine is putting more time into tackling this week. “There’s a lot of work going into it,” he said. “That’s true for any team, but we’re overemphasizing it. We need to.”

Maine is also minus-9 in turnover margin. The Black Bears have forced only one turnover this year –with no interceptions – and committed 10 turnovers.

Charlton isn’t panicking. Yes, he’d like to have a better record now, but he believes the team isn’t that far off.

“There are some things we obviously need to fix,” said Charlton. “And the reason I’m confident and positive is that they’re fixable. If they weren’t, we’d be having a different conversation.”

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