Ever since Mike Brusko first earned the nod as the University of Maine’s starting quarterback prior to the 2007 season, his ability to throw the ball effectively has been a concern for the Black Bears.
Adam Farkes, who has since transferred to Texas A&M-Commerce, gained the job early that fall and held it until he suffered a shoulder injury midway through last season.
In 2008, UMaine had a strong enough run game to win consistently with Brusko — despite limited downfield throwing.
However, coach Jack Cosgrove and his staff realized opponents were beginning to find ways to force the Bears’ hand in an attempt to exploit the limited passing game.
“We just felt like we’ve been seeing way too many nine-man fronts with Michael in the game,” Cosgrove said. “We needed to do something, so we did it.”
What the 20th-ranked Bears did was implement a two-quarterback system. The platoon arrangement was unveiled Saturday in UMaine’s 17-7 Colonial Athletic Association victory at Northeastern.
Sophomore transfer Warren Smith, who started games last season at Iona College, which disbanded its program at season’s end, gave the Bears an expanded passing dimension.
He completed 10 of 13 passes, including 10 in a row, and threw for a key third-quarter touchdown in UMaine’s win.
“Mike can throw the ball, too,” Smith said. “It’s a good balance we’ve got and I feel like that will make defenses worry and hopefully open up the run even more for us. The more we run, the more we can throw.”
Brusko, a team captain known for his unselfishness and leadership, seems to have embraced the move.
“There are certain things he does a little better than I do,” Brusko said of Smith. “If he can come in and contribute for us, kind of give the defense another aspect to worry about, that’s better for us. He came in and did a real good job [Saturday] and it’s only going to go up from there.”
The task for Cosgrove and his staff will be determining an effective rotation and utilizing the respective talents of both players.
“The two of them bring a lot to the offense and we’ve got some things to figure out as far as when, where and how [to use them], but they’re both going to be a part of it,” Cosgrove said.
Smith admitted the transition to a new school, a new team and a different offense with new terminology has been a challenge. However, he credited his teammates and coaches with welcoming him and aiding his development.
“This play book’s a little more complicated than my old play book I had at Iona,” Smith said. “Without Mike, coach Bourgs [offensive coordinator Kevin Bourgoin] and [fellow QB] Chris Treister, I wouldn’t be where I am right now.”
Smith did throw one interception after the TD throw, apparently sensing another big play.
“He got greedy,” Cosgrove said. “He threw the post [route] with two guys on it. Then there’s a guy over there in the flat saying, ‘hey, I’m wide open.’”
The hope is UMaine will be able to utilize the talents of both quarterbacks in an effort to give opponents more problems in preparing for the Bears’ offense. Smith is expected to gain more confidence as his role increases.
“He’s going to really be improving, getting better and helping us win,” Cosgrove said.
In the meantime, Brusko will give UMaine a proven performer on the field and a veteran presence in the huddle.
Williams has strong return
Another big boost to the Bears’ offense Saturday was the return of wide receiver Landis Williams.
The speedy senior, who missed the opener after suffering a broken hand during preseason, had an immediate impact against the Huskies.
Williams reeled in six catches for 73 yards, including a 47-yard scoring reception from Smith on which Williams beat NU cornerback Emmanuel Matthews.
Williams lined up on the right side and ran a post route. Smith’s throw was on target.
“The ball was out there on a rope and Landis shifted into gear to get that thing on the money,” Cosgrove said. “It was really special. He’s got that little gear.”
UM defense demonstrates gains
The UMaine defense also demonstrated significant improvement in the win over Northeastern.
The Bears surrendered only seven points and 278 total yards, despite allowing 140-plus rushing yards for the second straight game.
Junior middle linebacker Ryan McCrossan came off the bench to replaced injured senior captain Mark Masterson and was part of nine tackles. The Bears also received better play up front from the likes of redshirt freshman end Kris Enslen (6 tackles, 2 sacks) and senior end Jordan Stevens of Temple (5).
Senior linebacker Brandon McLaughlin also was in on eight tackles.
“I thought we started to play with some confidence, started to do a better job communicating what was going on out there,” Cosgrove said.