The lack of a consistent ground game forced the University of Maine to throw the football more — perhaps too much — last season.
Ever since, the Black Bears have re-committed themselves to building their offense around a dependable run attack.
Two games into the 2010 season, UMaine appears to have made some strides in that area. Coach Jack Cosgrove’s team racked up 239 rushing yards to help pace the Bears to a 31-23 victory at Monmouth.
Junior Jared Turcotte of Lewiston piled up 144 yards on 29 carries and ran for three touchdowns as UMaine (1-1) earned its first victory.
The Bears also worked tailbacks Pushaun Brown (6 carries, 42 yards), Derek Session (1-22, TD) and Roosevelt Boone (1-5) and quarterback Warren Smith (4 carries, 26 yds.) into the mix.
“We wanted to try to establish the run and I think that takes a lot of the pressure off being one-dimensional, like we were last year,” Cosgrove said.
Perhaps the biggest key to UMaine’s ability to run the ball is getting better production out of its offensive line. The Bears had only one upperclassman, senior left guard Matt Barber, in the starting lineup against the Hawks.
UMaine’s other starters were sophomore left tackle Josh Spearin of Limington, sophomores Garret Williamson (center) and Chris Howley (right guard) and redshirt freshman tackle Joe Hook. Senior tackle Alex Batanian replaced Spearin, who left Saturday’s game with an apparent left knee injury.
Turcotte and Smith (17-for-26, 194 yds.) both doled out the credit to the line for making their jobs easier.
“Up front played well (Saturday) and the whole O-line had a good surge all day,” Smith said. “The running backs — Turc, Sess, Pushaun — that’s going to help open up the passing game.”
UMaine is averaging a healthy 186.5 rushing yards through its first two games, albeit against two Northeast Conference programs that offer only 34 scholarship equivalencies. The Bears have 63.
Last season, UMaine led the Colonial Athletic Association in passing — after having been the league’s top rushing team in 2008. Now, UMaine’s goal is to strike a better balance that will enable it to keep opponents off-balance.
Cosgrove saw some progress in Saturday’s victory.
“I think there were some really good series of consistency and then there were some areas of glaring inconsistencies,” Cosgrove said. “That’s probably what troubles the coach right now: You see yourself at your best, then you make a dumb mistake.”
Aside from execution issues, UMaine struggled with penalties for the second week in a row. The Bears, who are averaging nine penalties for 85.5 yards, were flagged 11 times for 100 yards against Monmouth.
“That’s carelessness, it’s a lack of discipline and that’s going to get you beat,” Cosgrove said.
The Bears won’t have much margin for error Saturday night, when they travel to Syracuse to take on the Orange of the Big East Conference and the Bowl Championship Subdivision. Syracuse won last year’s game 41-24.
UM baseball slates fantasy camp
South Portland native Bill Swift graced Mahaney Diamond from 1980-84, during the heyday of UMaine baseball.
Next month, the former major league pitcher will be among the featured participants when Black Bears baseball coach Steve Trimper hosts the inaugural University of Maine Fantasy Baseball Camp.
Men who want to relive their glory days, or perhaps get a taste of what it’s like to play baseball at UMaine, are invited to attend the camp, which will be held Oct. 8-10 in Orono.
“It’s a chance to be a baseball player for the weekend, to get the experience of being around the clubhouse, playing the game on the FieldTurf at Mahaney Diamond,” said Trimper, who stressed it will be a low-key weekend.
“I don’t want people to get scared off that it’s going to be a competitive kind of situation,” he explained. “We just want people to go out and have some fun.”
The weekend will include an appearance by Swift and other former UMaine stars, who will talk baseball with participants.
The fantasy camp will include casual workouts on Oct. 8, then a dinner and reception. On Oct. 9, participants will fit games and a reception around three meals, then attend the UMaine-Connecticut men’s hockey game in the evening.
The camp concludes on Oct. 10 with more games, food and fun, including a closing reception at Mahaney Clubhouse.
“The coaches are going to work with people and talk a little bit about playing baseball,” Trimper said. “We’ll also have some storytelling-type stuff.”
The weekend costs $400 and campers will receive an official UMaine jersey with their name on the back, two wood bats courtesy of Rawlings, two batting gloves, a fitted UMaine baseball cap and polo shirt, a batting jacket, all meals and a one-year membership with the Friends of Maine Baseball Diamond Club.
A registration form can be downloaded at GoBlackBears.com. For more information, contact Trimper at 581-1090 or firstname.lastname@example.org.