ORONO — Warren Smith’s propensity for turnovers was again cause for concern coming into the 2011 football season.
The University of Maine quarterback has been plagued by interceptions, often in key situations, and the self-labeled “gunslinger” liked to take chances. That ultimately led to his being replaced as the starter late last season and resulted in another offseason/preseason battle with classmate Chris Treister of Cape Elizabeth for the starting job.
Based on his performance during Saturday night’s 28-13 victory over Bryant, the senior from Forked River, N.J., appears to have taken to heart the implications of his in-game decision-making.
Smith was an elusive runner and an efficient thrower in leading the Black Bears to a season-opening victory.
“He runs a little better than you think. He throws a little better than you think. He commands the game a little better than you think,” said Bryant coach Marty Fine. “He’s a tremendous college football player.”
Smith completed 14 of 20 passes for 135 yards against the Bulldogs and though he did not have a touchdown pass, he was not intercepted. He didn’t appear to have any throws that were close to being picked off.
“I thought our ball security was good,” said UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove. “Our decision-making in relation to ball security was good.”
Smith ran the ball 14 times for 31 yards. His number was called several times on “quarterback power,” but he also showed good feet in scrambling away from defensive pressure.
“That’s a credit to Bryant’s coverage,” Smith said. “Sometimes, they covered our guys on pass plays, so when that happens, you’ve just got to make something out of nothing.”
The key seemed to be that he didn’t attempt to do so by putting the ball in the air. Instead, he looked for running room and consciously avoided taking bit hits.
“That was my big thing coming into this year,” Smith said. “I’ve got to limit the turnovers if I want our offense to be successful. I’ll trust my feet over my arm.”
Smith was sacked twice, but showed the kind of mobility he enjoyed prior to breaking a bone in his foot late in the 2009 season.
While the UMaIne offense was a bit sporadic against Bryant, running the ball well early but struggling at times in the second half, the Bears got a nice emotional boost from the victory.
“We’ve just got to build on it,” Smith said.
“Like coach (Cosgrove) said, we’ve got big business next week (against Pittsburgh). We’ll take it and run with it.”
COSTON, SPECIAL TEAMS EXCITE
UMaine’s commitment to improved special teams play was in evidence in Saturday’s opener.
The punt return unit was outstanding, led by Trevor Coston. The senior from Greenlawn, N.Y., peeled off 130 yards on five returns and broke one 74 yards for a touchdown.
“He lacks aggressiveness, wouldn’t you say, in terms of catching punts?” Cosgrove quipped after the win, referring to Coston’s willingness to field the kick with the opponents bearing in on him and try to make a play.
“That team was outstanding,” Cosgrove said. “we’ve been so close for so long and we finally got it (a touchdown).”
For his efforts Coston, who also made two interceptions and three tackles from his safety position, was named the Colonial Athletic Association Special Teams Player of the Week and the College Football Performance Awards’ National Punt Returner of the Week and the National Defensive Back of the Week.
Coston, who has had some injury issues in the past, appears to be healthy and ready to impact the return game.
The Bears also achieved in the punt game, with the exception of having one blocked in the fourth quarter.
Senior Jordan Waxman averaged 40 yards on four punts and had two downed inside the 5-yard line. Smith also hit a 36-yard “pooch” punt that should have been downed inside the 5.
“In the end, the biggest difference was the kicking game,” Fine said.
COACH PRAISES BLACK BEARS
It isn’t unusual during a postgame press conference for a winning coach to compliment his opponent.
Saturday night, after UMaine beat Bryant 28-13, Bulldogs coach Fine felt compelled to praise the Black Bears.
“I was very impressed with how they handled themselves and I was very impressed with their class, their demeanor, their competitiveness,” Fine said.
“I’ve been in the Big Ten and the Big 12, the service academies, and I thought the Maine kids were coached the way anybody would want their kids to be coached. I thought it was a really impressive job by those folks.”