June 20, 2018
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Secondary play, offensive line health concerns for UMaine

By Pete Warner, BDN Staff

    Jack Cosgrove expected much more out of his football team Saturday night at the Carrier Dome.

    The University of Maine went toe to toe with Syracuse University, which plays at the higher Bowl Championship Subdivision level — for a half.

    After that, the Black Bears experienced an almost team-wide inability to execute.

    "It was very disappointing," Cosgrove said during Monday's Colonial Athletic Association coaches teleconference. "I let our guys know it. We were in much better position this year, having been in a similar spot last year, to respond in a positive way and we just didn't do it."

    One of the key concerns was the ineffectiveness of the defensive secondary. While UMaine did a good job containing Orange tailback Delone Carter (15 carries, 65 yards), quarterback Ryan Nassib had a field day.

    The first-year starter passed for 260 yards and a school-record five touchdowns, utilizing three primary receivers.

    "They really took it to us in the pass game," Cosgrove said.

    UMaine relies heavily on senior cornerbacks Steven Barker and Dom Cusano, along with junior safeties Jerron McMillian and Trevor Coston, to perform at a high level. Their abilities were tested by the Orange.

    "They're veteran guys that we're counting on. It's unacceptable," said Cosgrove, who made the secondary a point of emphasis after the defense surrendered some big plays in a 31-23 victory at Monmouth a week earlier.

    "(It's lack of) communication and just not playing the coverage the way it's designed to be played and not being disciplined," he added.

Smith OK after Syracuse game

    UMaine quarterback Warren Smith appeared to bounce back well after being knocked out of Saturday night's game.

    The junior took a solid shot from an Orange pass-rusher after throwing a fourth-quarter pass and was forced to leave the contest after having his head slammed into the artificial turf.

    "He was up and at 'em (Sunday), so we feel like that one was just a bit of a pop late in the game that (he'll) recover from," Cosgrove said.

    Smith appeared more comfortable against Syracuse as UMaine utilized a passing attack built around rollouts and short throws. He completed 20 of 27 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown.

    "I thought he threw the ball better, with much more confidence. This was his best performance of the year," Cosgrove said. "We're excited about it. He put the ball down the field a couple times right on the money and (the passes) got dropped."

    Smith also fumbled twice — both of which led to Syracuse touchdowns — and was sacked three times.

    "There were two turnovers inside our 30-yard line as a result of that and those were back-breakers," Cosgrove said. "They changed the game, they changed momentum and they really led to Syracuse getting the kind of juice from the crowd and the environment that they needed to have in a game that they were being challenged in."

Offensive line banged up

    The Black Bears head into Tuesday's practice concerned about the health of three of its offensive linemen.

    Brothers Josh Spearin and Matt Spearin of Limington both missed the Syracuse trip with injuries. Josh Spearin, UMaine's starting left tackle, hurt his left knee during the Monmouth game. Matt Spearin also is nursing an undisclosed ailment.

    With both of them sidelined, the Bears inserted junior Steve Shea of Corinna at left tackle against Syracuse. He spent one play there before moving to left guard after senior, three-year starter Matt Barber injured his right knee on the first play of Saturday's game.

    "We're a little bit hurting up front," said Cosgrove, who was hopeful the Spearins might be able to return to action this week.

    Barber was scheduled for a magnetic resonance imaging test on Monday.

    "We don't think it's a season-ender, but we don't know for sure," Cosgrove said.

UMaine gears up for CAA play

    The Bears will begin their grueling CAA schedule Saturday with a 6 p.m. home game against William & Mary of Williamsburg, Va.

    The Tribe, ranked No. 8 in this week's Sports Network/Fathead.com Football Championship Subdivision top 25 poll, heads to Orono on the heels of a 21-17 road victory at Old Dominion, where former UMaine quarterback and assistant coach Bobby Wilder is the head coach.

    William & Mary lost 14-13 to eventual national champion Villanova in last season's NCAA national semifinals.

    "You have the opportunity to open your conference schedule, a breath of fresh air so to speak," Cosgrove said. "We get to do it at home, against a great opponent in our league, a team we haven't seen for a few years, but certainly one that we've had tremendous respect for over the years."

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