If you know anything about Maine football, you know that the trip to Orono is one of the toughest roadtrips in the CAA. The distance, the weather, and the Black Bear's relentlessness in defending their home field create a huge challenge for visiting teams. While they lost some of their most successful offensive talents after last season, the Black Bears have played Villanova tough recently and will be a good measuring stick for the 'Cats ability to play on the road.
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) With Marcus Wasilewski graduating last Spring, the Black Bears seem to have moved on with Daniel Collins at quarterback, but freshman Drew Belcher has also taken some snaps in the last two games. Is that just a schematic decision for Maine, or is a quarterback controversy brewing in Orono?
No QB controversy, just two young guys that the coaches are bringing along at their own pace. Collins is more familiar with the system, as this is his third year. Belcher is a true freshman, very talented, but still working on mastering the playbook. After last week's game, when he completed 11 of his first 12 passes and led the team on a game winning drive in the final two minutes, I expect Collins will start this week but the staff will look for ways to get Belcher into the game.
(2) Maine's defense seems to be their strength early this season, specifically against the pass. Who are the key players on that side of the ball, and how well can they corral a guy like John Robertson?
Maine certainly has the most experience on defense and have an outstanding linebacker corps, led by Christophe Malumba-Tshimanga and Cabrini Goncalves and the interior line of Matt Wilson and Darius Greene are very tough. Trevor Bates is an extremely talented end and the Bears will probably use Patrick Ricard more at end, after an early-season injury to Mike Kozlakowski. Robertson is maybe the most dangerous player in FCS football and appears to have improved as a passer For Maine to have any success against him, they'll need to have strong discipline, tackle well, and hope the offense can stay on the field to keep them fresh in the second half.
(3) All of Maine's FCS games so far this season have had relatively close scores, is that trend something that the team should worry about, or do you think it is a positive for the team to be able to hang in?
I think the expectation is that most conference games are going to be close and many will be decided in the fourth quarter. I'd think that those early-season experiences would reinforce the importance to a young team of playing hard for sixty minutes.
(4) Nigel Beckford won the CAA Rookie of the Week Award for his two scores at Towson, how important is it for him and Nigel Jones to get the running game going in CAA games?
Historically, Maine has been most successful when they run the ball 40+ times. That's been a struggle so far this season and that's reflected in their time of possession. If they can get both Jones and Beckford going, that will make the pass game that much more effective, especially the play action, so I'm guessing that will be a big part of the game plan. Of course, that means the young offensive line has to do their job. There's been improvement each week but it remains to be seen if they can stand up to CAA defenses week in and week out.
(5) What can you tell us about the development of this Maine team since week 1? They seemed to struggle in some early games, but after converting five of five fourth-downs last weekend, they look a lot tougher than they did on paper a week prior.
It's a very young team, loaded with true freshmen, redshirt freshmen, and sophomores in key roles. Growth is not always on a continuous uphill path, so there are bound to be fits and starts. Last week's win showed a lot of character and potential and I think the coaches would say that many of the young guys are ahead of schedule. I'm sure there will still be some bumps in the road but this is a team that could surprise some people in the second half of the season.