Teams are often best able to maximize their potential by virtue of taking on tough competition along the way.
The University of Maine faces the country’s No. 2-ranked Football Championship Subdivision team, while Husson University of Bangor tackles its second Division II opponent heading into what is expected to be a wet weekend in New England.
James Madison Dukes (3-1, 1-0 CAA) at Maine Black Bears (2-2, 0-1 CAA), 6 p.m., Alfond Stadium, Orono: UMaine’s challenging schedule continues with its second straight No. 2 opponent in JMU.
The Bears hope they can correct some of the mistakes made in last week’s loss at then-No. 2 Richmond and apply them against another top-notch Colonial Athletic Association team. One change will be in UMaine’s approach.
“We needed to be more aggressive,” said UMaine coach Jack Cosgrove. “Our thought process as coaches and players has to be to take on a more aggressive nature.”
The Bears face a speed-laden offense that ranks fourth in the Football Championship Subdivision while piling up 252 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Rodney Landers heads the spread option attack, netting 111.5 ypg with six touchdowns.
“He’s a run threat first, pass threat second,” Cosgrove said. “They’re an option finesse team. They can run it at you.”
Landers is flanked by backs Eugene Holloman (72 ypg) and Griff Yancey (45 ypg).
End Jovan Belcher (32 tackles, 2 sacks) heads a UMaine defense that also features cornerback Lionel Nixon Jr. (25 tackles) and linebackers Andrew Downey and Sean Wasson (24 tackles each).
Landers is no slouch throwing, either, having completed 28 of 45 passes for 396 yards and three TDs. Kerby Long is the top receiving threat on a team that has put up 37 points per game.
JMU also boasts a dangerous return threat in Scotty McGee.
“We’re going to have to play great team defense and tackle well,” Cosgrove said.
UMaine also needs more consistent production from its offense, which is led by tailback Jhamal Fluellen (85.2 ypg), QB Adam Farkes (58-for-105, 667 yds., 9 TDs, 3 interceptions) and wide receiver Tyrell Jones (10 receptions, 152 yds., 3 TDs).
Fluellen, also the leading receiver (12 rec., 69 yds.), has been a bit banged up, while WR Landis Williams sat out last week with a left foot/ankle injury.
The Bears encounter a solid defense (340.2 yards, 27.0 points per outing) that looks to safeties Marcus Haywood (38 tackles) and Gerrin Griffin (30) and linebacker D.J. Brandon (28) to set the tone.
The Dukes are riding high after knocking off top-ranked and two-time defending FCS champion Appalachian State. JMU trailed 21-0 at halftime, but won 35-32.
Husson Eagles (2-1) at American International Yellow Jackets (3-0), 1 p.m., Miller Field, Springfield, Mass.: Husson looks to extend its winning streak to three games with its second road game of the season against a Division II foe.
Coach Gabby Price’s Eagles have succeeded of late by running the ball effectively and stopping the run. Husson features a potent 1-2 backfield duo with Julius Williams (103.3 ypg) and Justin Lindie of Winslow (94 ypg) while averaging 227 ypg on the ground.
Defensively, the Eagles have given up only 124.7 ypg via the run behind a unit paced by linebacker Bobby Gilbert of Beaver Cove (21 tackles, 3.5 sacks), safety Kyle Vanidestine of Bangor (20) and cornerback Darius Charlton (17)
AIC tops the Northeast 10 Conference in scoring (35.7 ppg), scoring defense (17.0 ppg) and rushing defense (89.7 ypg). The Yellow Jackets have passed for nearly 294 yards per contest and have won nine straight games dating back to 2007.
That will test a Husson defense that is allowing 267 ypg through the air.
Bridgewater State Bears (1-2) at Maine Maritime Academy Mariners (1-2), 1 p.m., Ritchie Field, Castine: The Mariners, who have had a propensity for playing some exciting games already this season, open the Bogan Division portion of their New England Football Conference schedule against the Bears.
MMA ranks second in Division III rushing offense with an impressive 376.7 ypg. Fullback Jim Bower has amassed 160 ypg and his nine TDs lead the nation. Nick Bourassa has gained 81.7 ypg.
The Mariners have scored 37.7 ppg while allowing 37.0 ppg.
Bridgewater State has had trouble stopping the run but has been stingy defending the pass. The Bears also have good offensive balance.
Today’s other games, 1 p.m.: Middlebury (1-0) at Colby (0-1), Amherst (1-0) at Bowdoin (0-1), Bates (0-1) at Tufts (1-0).