Despite throwing six interceptions and no touchdown passes in his last two games and being replaced in the third quarter of Saturday’s 31-0 loss at Villanova, redshirt freshman Chris Ferguson will be the University of Maine’s starting quarterback for Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. homecoming game against the University of Rhode Island in Orono.
Ferguson completed 15 of 24 passes for 138 yards and was intercepted three times against Villanova before being replaced by transfer graduate student Max Staver midway through the third period. Staver completed 8 of 17 passes for 73 yards and was intercepted once.
“It wasn’t Ferg’s day,” said University of Maine head coach Joe Harasymiak during the weekly Colonial Athletic Association coaches media teleconference Monday. “I wanted to get him out of there before he caused any more damage. But he’ll start against the University of Rhode Island.
“He threw the ball pretty well on first and second down. We didn’t get overwhelmed at all. But on third down, he really struggled with some of the looks (shown by Villanova’s defense),” said Harasymiak. “We had given him a lot of the same looks in practice. We’ll have to switch things up to make sure he sees what he has to see (in practice).”
Ferguson completed 20 of 41 passes for 162 yards in a 28-10 loss to James Madison on Sept. 23. UMaine had a bye between the JMU and Villanova games as a result of the cancellation of its Sept. 30 game against Football Bowl Subdivision team Central Florida due to scheduling conflicts caused by Hurricane Irma.
Harasymiak was disappointed with the way his team responded to a momentum-changing 99-yard fumble return by freshman safety Jaquan Amos that transformed what could have been a 7-7 tie into 14-0 Villanova lead. Tight end-backup quarterback Drew Belcher fumbled.
“We never recovered from that. We folded as a team. That wasn’t good to see. We didn’t do a good job facing adversity at all. The interceptions after the fumble were brutal,” said Harasymiak.
He told the team it was the most “embarrassing” loss he has absorbed during his coaching career but also credited Villanova for its performance despite playing without injured CAA preseason Defensive Player of the Year Rob Rolle, a safety, and starting quarterback Zach Bednarczyk.
Villanova, with the league’s top run defense, limited Black Bear running back Josh Mack to 22 yards on 18 carries. He had averaged a league-high 167.3 yards per game.
“We were a little hesitant at the running back position,” said Harasymiak. “They have the league’s best run defense but we have to block better. As coaches and players, we have to come up with something we can do this week to be more effective overall. We didn’t execute very well.”
The second-year UMaine head coach was relatively pleased with UMaine’s defense, which limited Villanova to 219 total yards and posted five quarterback sacks. A blocked punt and three turnovers put UMaine in a hole and led to 28 points.
“For the most part, the defense executed pretty well. But we know we still have to play better,” said Harasymiak.
Two of the bright spots were sophomore defensive linemen Kayon Whitaker and Alejandro Oregon. Whitaker, an end, and Oregon, a tackle, each had two sacks. Whitaker had eight tackles and Oregon was in on five.
“They played well. They have extremely high motors,” said Harasymiak.
The Black Bears, 0-3 in the CAA and 1-3 overall, probably will have to win their last five conference games if they are to have any chance to make the FCS playoffs.
“I haven’t been thinking about the playoffs at all. It hasn’t even crossed my mind,” said Harasymiak. “We need to get back to playing Maine football.”
He said his players can’t look too far ahead, they have to focus on “one game at a time.”
The Black Bears will have their hands full with a URI team that appears better than its record.
URI is 1-4 overall, 0-2 in the CAA, but the two non-conference losses have been by three points.
“Their wide-outs are scary good. They have a lot of weapons. We’re going to have to step up and do a good job against them. And their defense is playing well. Rhode Island always plays us tough,” said Harasymiak.
UMaine has won the last three meetings against the Rams by 10 points or less.
URI has the league’s third-best passing attack, averaging 273.8 passing yards per game.
“We’re going to have to be ready to play or we’ll get our you-know-what’s kicked,” said Harasymiak.
UMaine senior free safety DeAndre Scott missed the Villanova game due to concussion protocol and Harasymiak said he will be evaluated this week.