ORONO, Maine — In the Colonial Athletic Association, there isn’t much room for subpar performance.
Tenth-ranked James Madison came to town last Saturday and took advantage of its team speed while playing a complete, well-rounded game.
The University of Maine had no answers for the Dukes.
The result was a 31-7 James Madison victory that left coach Jack Cosgrove and his team with increased respect for the Dukes, but disappointment in the Black Bears’ efforts.
“James Madison, I thought, played real well. I think when you see that team play at [its] best, you really have a pretty formidable foe,” Cosgrove said.
UMaine, which slipped to 3-6 overall and 2-4 in the CAA, must now regroup and refocus in time for Saturday’s 2 p.m. home game against Georgia State at Alfond Stadium.
The most glaring difference between James Madison and UMaine in last Saturday’s game was the Dukes’ team speed.
On defense, the Bears had difficulty containing quarterback Justin Thorpe. The elusive junior returned from a one-game benching to give UMaine fits.
The most obvious aspect of that struggle came in Thorpe’s ability to elude would-be UMaine tacklers. On a third-and-goal from the 9-yard line in the first half, he pranced into the end zone untouched.
“I think we saw him at his best,” Cosgrove said. “It’s all Thorpe. It’s a throw [play], nobody’s open, [and] he creates a touchdown by his feet.”
The Bears also encountered fatigue over the course of the game as JMU built a commanding 82-47 advantage in offensive plays from scrimmage.
“Our defense was on the field way too much,” Cosgrove said.
Part of that dynamic stemmed from the fact UMaine’s offense was virtually nonexistent.
The Bears scratched out only 104 total yards and did not score — the touchdown came on safety Jamal Clay’s strip and 67-yard fumble return.
“It was very discouraging to be in that position,” Cosgrove said. “We had no answers, offensively, for what they did and they didn’t do a heck of a lot, other than play fast.”
James Madison was able to restrict UMaine’s run game effectively and also showed off its “wheels” in the secondary.
The Bears’ receivers had trouble getting open, which meant quarterback Marcus Wasilewski was taking shots when perhaps his man was well-covered. He was intercepted three times.
“I think their speed to the football really was on display,” Cosgrove said. “We just couldn’t get anything established offensively.”
Bears’ Clay comes on strong
Among the bright spots for UMaine in Saturday’s loss was Clay.
The junior safety from Mahwah, N.Y., spearheaded the defensive effort while racking up 13 tackles, including one for a loss, against the Dukes.
“He was our defensive player of the game against William & Mary two weeks ago and he had another strong effort against James Madison last weekend,” Cosgrove said.
Clay, in his first season as a starter, ranks fifth on the team with 45 tackles and has two fumble recoveries and six pass break-ups.
He and sophomore Khari Al-Mateen have had the challenge of replacing last year’s duo of Jerron McMillian and Trevor Coston. McMillian is playing for the NFL’s Green Bay Packers.
“Jamal Clay and Khari Al-Mateen, we feel, have probably made the most advancement of any position on our football team this year,” Cosgrove offered.
He also lauded the efforts of senior cornerback Darlos James, who made seven tackles against James Madison.