ORONO, Maine — It was a disappointing home debut Saturday night for the University of Maine football team.
The Black Bears struggled with penalties (9 for 95 yards) and overall inconsistency in their execution while dropping a 30-20 decision to the University at Albany.
A crowd of 7,101, including a large throng of UMaine students, turned out at Alfond Stadium only to watch their team stumble during a lackluster performance against a tough opponent.
“We were a disappointment [Saturday night] for the folks that showed up,” said UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove. “I’ve never seen as many packed into the visitor side in quite some time. It certainly felt a little bit more fan-involved. We didn’t help that out, though.”
The Black Bears (1-2) played well defensively in the first half while the offense sputtered.
UMaine kept the Great Danes out of the end zone, allowing three field goals. Two of those drives were aided by 15-yard penalties against the Bears.
Darlos James also forced a fumble, but UMaine failed to cash in when a low snap led to a blocked field goal on the Bears’ second possession.
“The ball did get down, but the snap skipped,” Cosgrove said. “Once that happens, there’s a dysfunction.”
The offense picked up the pace in the second half, but the defense had difficulty stopping the Great Danes (3-1) and rugged tailback Drew Smith (18 carries, 114 yards, 2 touchdowns).
The Bears re-established the run behind junior Rickey Stevens (20 carries, 83 yds.), who started in place of injured sophomore David Hood. And junior quarterback Marcus Wasilewski (23-for-36, 264 yds., 2 TDs, 1 interception) was steady.
However, UMaine was whistled for some rhythm-killing penalties and the Bears were twice unable to cash in with touchdowns after gaining first downs at the UA 14- and 8-yard lines, respectively.
“We had three holding penalties, three false starts on our center — twitching — just things that are unacceptable, drive-killers,” said Cosgrove, who was especially disappointed that mostly upperclassmen were the offenders.
“If it’s a young player and a young team, you see that,” he added, “but it’s really disturbing when it’s a veteran player.”
The Great Danes were able to make enough plays later in the game to keep putting points on the board and hold the Bears at bay.
“They made a lot of impressive plays,” Cosgrove said. “Had our defense been able to get off the field, I think that might have helped our offensive opportunities.”
UMaine gets back to work this week in preparation for its Colonial Athletic Association opener against Villanova. Kickoff is set Saturday at 3:30 p.m. on Morse Field.
Wasilewski appears to be making progress as he settles into his role as UMaine’s quarterback.
He made his third start against UAlbany and had a solid outing. Wasilewski was more productive in the second half, completing 16 of 21 passes for 192 yards with a pair of scoring tosses. He was sacked once and intercepted once.
“He’s been up and down,” Cosgrove said Monday during the CAA coaches teleconference. “I guess the consistency part of it is really the concern.”
Through three weeks, Wasilewski is 57-for-97 passing for 627 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. His 209 passing yards per game ranks third in the CAA.
Cosgrove has been happy with Wasilewski’s toughness, preparation and his “reads” in evaluating opposing defenses’ schemes. The next step is to complete more passes, more often.
“He’s made some great throws for us and missed on some throws we feel like he should have made,” said Cosgrove, who conceded the inconsistency is part of Wasilewski’s growth process as he adapts to directing the offense.
Cosgrove said the overall performance of the offense has been lacking and has affected Wasilewski’s effectiveness.
“Probably the expectations we have for him aren’t being met, although I think in most cases he hasn’t had, certainly, the help from the experienced crew on our football team that he needs to have,” Cosgrove said.
Nigel Jones makes debut
If he had his druthers, Cosgrove would prefer not to use first-year players.
Players who are able to redshirt during their first season to get acclimated to college life and Division I football generally wind up having more productive careers.
With Hood sidelined by injury Saturday night, the Bears wound up using a true freshman. Running back Nigel Jones made his collegiate debut against UAlbany, carrying the ball six times for 22 yards.
Jones, a 5-9, 198-pounder from Pleasantville, N.J., spelled Stevens in a limited role.