The UMaine football team spent the bye week focused on improving its running game. Joe Fitzpatrick, shown with Coach Nick Charlton, leads the Black Bears with 208 yards rushing in five games. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The University of Maine football team will be back in action Saturday, coming off a bye week and trying to climb back into the Colonial Athletic Association race.

The Black Bears are 2-3, 0-2 in the CAA. And with seven games remaining, they know they can’t afford many more lapses.

“There’s no point in thinking about the past, it’s over now,” said junior quarterback Chris Ferguson. “We had the bye week and now we have to take advantage of it.”

That’s not always easy: Maine has lost the game after its bye week in each of its last four seasons.

When the Black Bears play Richmond (2-3, 1-1) at noon Saturday at Alfond Stadium, they have a chance to get back in a CAA race that is still very tight. Four teams are undefeated in the league – with two, Villanova and James Madison, meeting this week. Four other teams have one loss.

“We know what we’ve got to do,” said Ferguson. “We’ve put ourselves in this situation. Right now we’ve just got to worry about Richmond. We know we have to win every game, but we’re trying to do that anyway. I see this as a great opportunity to show our grit.”

The bye week was helpful in allowing injured players to heal. Linebacker Jaron Grayer (shoulder) and running back Emmanuel Reed (ankle) are both expected to play against the Spiders. And while running back Jordan Rowell (knee) is getting healthier, he might not be ready for Saturday’s game.

Maine’s focus during the bye week was two-fold: improve the running game on offense and work on creating more turnovers on defense.

The Black Bears are traditionally one of the better running offenses in the CAA, and with an experienced offensive line returning, they expected to remain that way this year. Instead, they are averaging only 98.2 rushing yards per game, 11th of 12 teams in the league. Senior Joe Fitzpatrick, from North Yarmouth and Cheverus High, leads Maine with 208 yards and Reed has 203.

Coach Nick Charlton said Maine is committed to establishing a consistent run game to take pressure off a passing offense that ranks second in the CAA and sixth nationally with 331.8 yards per game.

“We’re getting closer to our identity and who we want to be,” said Charlton. “Sometimes that takes time. It has in the past.”

Defensively, Maine spent the bye week working on tackling and creating turnovers. Maine has a league-worst turnover ratio of minus-9 – Richmond is 11th at minus-4 – and has created only one turnover defensively this year, a fumble recovery by Richard Carr. A year ago, Maine had a turnover ratio of plus-5 and forced 31 turnovers.

“That’s the biggest stat,” said Charlton. “That’s the area that needs to improve. If we’re turning the ball over, that’s taking offensive possessions away from us. And if we don’t do it on defense, we’re missing opportunities to get (opposing offenses) off the field and give us field position.”

Defensive coordinator Mike Ryan said the Black Bears have had chances to create turnovers, but have dropped several interceptions.

“A lot of it comes down to swarming to the ball,” he said. “We’ve got to continue preaching to get to the football. When you’ve got a lot of guys around the football, that’s when you get strips and that’s when you have a chance to recover fumbles.

“Another factor is confidence. When guys are forcing turnovers, they’re playing at a very high confidence level. And at some positions, we’re trying to build that confidence … There is no magic call that we can call that will create turnovers. It all starts with the swarm, a high level of confidence and being in position to make the play.”

Senior linebacker Taji Lowe, who has stepped into the middle of the defense in the absence of the injured Deshawn Stevens, said the week off gave some of the newer defensive starters, such as linebackers Adrian Otero and Myles Taylor, the chance to get more comfortable in their positions.

“We weren’t playing like we need to play,” he said. “We need to get back to playing physical, violent football.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.