The trip to Orono has been one of the tougher trips in the CAA for Andy Talley's Wildcats, even in the Black Bears' down seasons. That makes it even scarier in a season like 2016, when Maine enters the week on a tear, winning their last five straight games and four in-conference. The sole blemish on their conference record being a 31-20 loss to JMU. With a new head coach and a strong passing game early this season, the Black Bears are promising to give Villanova battle in Orono this weekend..
To help us get caught up-to-date on everything Maine football, we reached out to Rich Kimball (@DowntownRichK), the voice of Black Bear football and host of Downtown with Rich Kimball on Sports Radio 92.9, The Ticket. Follow him on Twitter for more.
(1) At 4-1 in the CAA and a big win against William & Mary, the Black Bears have to be thinking about the league title. How has this team grown since starting the season 0-3?
The biggest things are that they are learning a new offense and getting better at it every week. Dan Collins had a huge first half at William & Mary, throwing to seven different receivers, and the running back rotation is working quite well. The big thing for Collins has been his improvement at checking down. He's got a big arm and loves to throw it deep but he's also gotten much better at not forcing things and finding the open guy. He's also fortunate that some of many of those guys can turn a simple five yard our into a 25 yard gain. The other positive is that their confidence is growing every week. The Bears have won five straight games by seven points or less and that's never happened in team history. On the one hand, maybe should have won some of those games comfortably but, on the other hand, they have developed great faith in their ability to come from behind and to hold a lead in the fourth quarter.
(2) Maine has the second-best passing offense in the league so-far. Who are some of the top targets for QB Dan Collins?
Micah Wright is a big-time talent. He runs his routes as well as anyone I've seen in the CAA in the last twenty years and has proven to be very tough to tackle. Jared Osumah has been a very steady guy who finds ways to get open and Earnest Edwards is going to be something special. He's a true freshman from Rochester, New York and he can fly. Every time he touches the ball there's the possibility of something magical happening and he gets better every week. Last week, TE Jeremy Salmon got more involved in the offense with four catches and a reception on a two-point conversion. He's got very good hands and the skills to make big gains after a catch, so I expect he'll play a bigger role going forward, and running backs Josh Mack and Darian Davis-Ray are also pretty good receivers.
(3) Joe Harasymiak is racking up some good wins in his first full season as head coach. What were the expectations for him when he transitioned into his current role?
I think expectations were high for Joe. He was very successful as a defensive coordinator and knows the system and the players. The transition has been pretty seamless because Joe is a hard worker, a smart guy, and carries himself with a sense of calm that you might not expect from the youngest coach in D-1 football. He made it clear when he took the job that he believes this team can win a national championship eventually and he approaches each game with a laser focus. The players like him, and the rest of this young staff, but also have a tremendous amount of respect for him. That's a pretty good combination.
(4) Maine features a linebacker from Quebec, Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga, who is second in the league in tackles. Who are some of the other key defensive players, and what are the units' strengths?
Christophe is terrific and is well on the way to leading the team in tackles for the third time in four years. The guy NFL scouts are raving about is defensive tackle Pat Ricard, who led the league in tackles for a loss last year and is as tough a young man as you'll see. He won't post gaudy numbers this year because he's been double-teamed most of the season but we expect that he's a guy you'll see playing on Sundays next year. The pleasant surprise has been the play of the young secondary. There's not a senior in the group but they have made countless big plays. Najee Goode has been strong all year and true freshman Manny Patterson from Baltimore is turning into one of the best cover guys in the CAA.
(5) Maine has scheduled two FBS opponents in a couple of recent seasons; is that a trend you expect to continue?
Maine plans to keep playing two FBS opponents for the foreseeable future. Next year, they have games with Central Florida and UMass and I don't see that changing any time soon because of the need for revenue. It certainly puts pressure on the team because it basically means you have to win six conference games to have a shot at the playoffs but the staff has embraced the challenge and look at it as a big recruiting tool and an opportunity to test themselves like nobody else in FCS football.