Saturday’s loss to top-ranked, unbeaten Richmond was a reality check for the University of Maine football team.
The Black Bears witnessed first hand the talent and experience that have enabled the Spiders to roll up 15 straight victories.
The 38-21 setback also pretty much put the official “rebuilding” label on this team.
Coach Jack Cosgrove’s squad entered its bye week with a 3-4 record, including a Colonial Athletic Association 2-2 mark.
“Obviously, we have a lot of things to work on,” Cosgrove said during Monday’s CAA coaches conference call.
In addition to taking time to get injured players healed up, the extra week provides an opportunity for continued skill development.
“We’ve got to get some of the younger players in our program more reps to improve our depth and the overall use of our personnel,” Cosgrove said.
UMaine’s record means its long-term goals for this season — including winning a CAA title and advancing to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs — have pretty much gone by the boards.
Ordinarily, four losses or a potential seven wins wouldn’t preclude a postseason bid, especially for a team in the high-powered CAA, which has sent five teams to the playoffs each of the last two years.
UMaine earned an at-large selection last season with an 8-4 regular-season record.
However, one of the Bears’ victories is over Division II St. Cloud State and it would not be factored into the equation by the NCAA selection committee. And one of their losses came against Albany, a partial-scholarship (32) program that is considered a step below a team such as UMaine with 63 scholarship equivalencies.
“The chances of us extending [the season] after that are extremely slim and that’s just the reality of it,” said poised senior tri-captain Mike Brusko. “So we’ve got to make the most of the last four weeks, if that’s what it is, and play one week at a time and grow up quickly so that we can feel good about the way we finish the season.”
The Bears will take this week to regroup and refocus.
“We can’t dwell on anything,” Brusko said. “We have to be realistic. We have to understand what’s in front of us and what we have for the rest of our season. Right now we have a four-game season.”
Brusko said he and the other captains, along with the rest of the upperclassmen, will try to facilitate a continued atmosphere of hard work and tenacity. He said one key element for UMaine is putting together a full, 60-minute performance.
UMaine has been ahead at halftime in six of its seven games this season and was tied in the other contest.
“We have a young team, an inexperienced team, and some young guys that don’t quite know what it takes to play an entire game. Right now, that has to be our focus,” Brusko said of gaining experience.
UMaine returns to action Oct. 31 with a 3:30 p.m. home game against Massachusetts.
Black Bears seek better balance
UMaine’s inability to run the football consistently is of increasing concern to Cosgrove and his staff.
Richmond held the Bears to minus-2 rushing yards on 17 attempts, including three quarterback sacks (minus-12 yards).
Part of the dilemma Saturday was the Spiders’ 14-point, third-quarter outburst that put UMaine in a 24-14 hole late in the quarter and forced them to become more aggressive in an attempt to get back in the game.
“Getting behind, they really made the run a secondary thought for us and we had to play catch-up with the throw,” Cosgrove said.
Still, the Bears have lacked balance of late. UMaine has rushed for only 278 yards combined in its last four games, an average of 69.5 ypg.
The Bears rank 10th in CAA rushing at 125.1 ypg.
“[There are] areas of the game that we’ve got to get better at, running the football being No. 1,” Cosgrove said. “We’ve really gone backwards that way.”
Bears take to the air with Smith
One area of the game that continues to show growth for UMaine is its passing attack.
Sophomore quarterback Warren Smith had his second 300-yard passing game of the season Saturday. He completed 35 of 58 passes for 327 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Prior to the 340-yard performance Sept. 26 at Syracuse, UMaine hadn’t had a 300-yard passer since Ron Whitcomb accomplished the feat in the final game of the 2004 season.
Smith has gone 115-for-183 this season (.628) good for 1,291 yards with 10 TDs and nine interceptions.
“At times we feel like no one can stop us. I feel like that all the time,” Smith said.
“We’ve got to build on the good things but we’ve got a lot to fix,” he added.