ORONO, Maine — Jack Cosgrove has been the head coach of the University of Maine football team since 1993.
In 21 seasons, his Black Bears have never faced an opponent the caliber of the one that awaits them Saturday.
Unbeaten Northwestern of the vaunted Big Ten Conference is ranked 16th in the country in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
“We’ve got to be on the edge of our seats this weekend, because we’re playing the best of the best,” Cosgrove said.
Maine Black Bears (3-0) vs. Northwestern Wildcats (3-0), 3:30 p.m., Ryan Field, Evanston, Ill.
The Bears received a bit of a wakeup call during last week’s 35-16 win over Bryant. A similarly “casual” early effort against the Wildcats will lead to a long afternoon, Cosgrove said.
“We’ve been talking about raising our expectations and our standard of performance.”
However, the emphasis all week has been on doing the fundamentals well.
“We’ve got to block, tackle, throw and catch well,” Cosgrove said. “Our schemes aren’t going to win this game. We can’t create plays or magical formulas to beat this team.”
Senior linebacker Troy Eastman said the FBS games elicit lots of emotion while motivating the Bears.
“I think the challenge is something that, as a competitor, you’re excited for,” he said. “You play the game to play the best and to be the best.”
UMaine, ranked No. 25 in the Football Championship Subdivision coaches poll, encounters a multifaceted Northwestern offense. The Wildcats are averaging 43.3 points and 520 yards per game with tremendous run-pass balance.
“If they wanted to be one-dimensional they could be very good at whatever dimension they wanted to be,” said Cosgrove, who is impressed with Northwestern’s quarterback tandem.
Kain Colter is averaging 7.4 yards per carry and 66 yards per game rushing with two touchdowns and has completed 22 of 26 passes for 179 yards and two TDs with an interception.
Trevor Siemian is 42-for-62 passing with 634 yards, four TDs and two interceptions. The top receivers are Tony Jones (18 catches, 293 yds, 2 TDs) and Christian Jones (13-189-2).
Tailback Treyvon Green heads the ground attack with 117.7 yards per game and 7.2 yards per attempt. Jeff Budzien is 6 for 7 on field goals.
On offense, UMaine knows it will have to be the picture of efficiency. Senior QB Marcus Wasilewski continues to lead the team in rushing (64.7 ypg, 5.7 ypc) and passing (58-for-88, 739 yds, 5 TDs, 2 INTs).
The Bears need further run production from tailback Rickey Stevens (33 carries, 178 yds, 2 TDs), while a receiving corps led by wideouts Derrick Johnson (22-189-1) and Damarr Aultman (10-144-1) expect to be tested.
“They’ve got [a nation-leading] eight interceptions already in three games. They fly to the football and they knock down more passes than any team I’ve ever seen,” Cosgrove said.
Northwestern is giving up 24.7 points and 442.3 yards per contest, having held opponents to an average of 123 rushing yards. Key playmakers include linebackers Chi Chi Ariguzo (23 tackles, 1 INT) and Damien Proby (22 tackles) and safety Ibraheim Campbell (16 tackles, 3 INTs).
“We have to be able to secure the football, block, make plays and make quick decisions, do the things that allow us to move the chains,” Cosgrove said.
BEAR TRACKS: UMaine hopes to be closer to full strength against the Wildcats after missing a handful of players against Bryant. Senior defensive end Mike Cole (chest), senior tight end Justin Perillo (shoulder) and sophomore fullback Carlton Charles of Windham (ankle) are all questionable … UMaine will receive more than $400,000 to play at Northwestern … UMaine is 2-10 all-time against FBS opponents … this will be the second of only two games on grass this season for UMaine. The other was at Norfolk State. The Bears were 2-0 on grass last year.
Alfred State Pioneers (0-2) vs. Husson Eagles (0-2), noon, Winkin Complex, Bangor
Coach Gabby Price will have his team fired up for the Eagles’ home opener. Husson, coming off a 36-0 loss at Springfield, looks to snap a four-game losing streak.
Alfred (N.Y.) also is in search of its first win after a 35-21 loss at Concordia (Mich.).
Massachusetts Maritime Buccaneers (1-0) vs. Maine Maritime Mariners (0-1), 1 p.m., Ritchie Field, Castine
This rivalry represents the annual battle for the Admiral’s Cup. Mass. Maritime leads the all-time series, which began in 1946, 23-17.
This not a conference game as Maine Maritime remains in the New England Football Conference while the Buccaneers have moved to the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference along with five other NEFC programs.
Saturday’s other games, 1 p.m.
Williams (0-0) at Colby (0-0), Trinity (0-0) at Bowdoin (0-0), Middlebury (0-0) at Bates (0-0).