Jack Cosgrove is looking for a spark from his University of Maine football team.
The Black Bears have struggled recently against some of the top teams in the Colonial Athletic Association — and the nation. They head into the homestretch of their season looking to perform at a higher level.
UMaine hits the road Saturday, while Maine Maritime Academy of Castine and Husson University of Bangor will enjoy the benefits of home-field advantage in their respective games.
Maine Black Bears (2-5) at Rhode Island Rams (2-4), 12:30 p.m., Meade Stadium, Kingston, R.I.: The Bears have lost two straight and four of their last five heading into a clash with an improved Rams squad that is 2-0 at home this season.
UMaine may have a change at quarterback, where junior starter Warren Smith has been hampered during the week by a hip injury suffered against Villanova. He sat out Tuesday’s workout but did practice some Wednesday and Thursday.
Classmate Chris Treister of Cape Elizabeth will step in today if Smith is unable to play. Cosgrove said it will be a game-time decision and wouldn’t address it prior to Saturday’s kickoff.
Last season, Treister made his first collegiate start against Rhode Island and set UMaine records for completions and completion percentage. He went 40-for-46 for 468 yards with four passing touchdowns and a rushing TD.
UMaine continues to have execution issues in key situations on both sides of the ball. Of late, that has included turnovers and giving up big pass plays.
“(Against Villanova) we weren’t good in third-down situations either offensively or defensively,” Cosgrove said.
The Bears will again try to establish the run behind junior Jared Turcotte of Lewiston (75.3 yards per game). Smith (128-for-195, 1,246 yds., 6 TDs, 6 interceptions) or Treister (11-for-25, 103 yds., 1 TD) have several targets, including Derek Session (34 receptions, 406 yds., 1 TD) and Tyrell Jones (23-249).
URI (17.3 points per game) and UMaine (15.3 ppg) rank ninth and 10th, respectively, in scoring offense in the CAA. Conversely, the Bears (250.3) and Rams (252.8) sit at the bottom of the pass defense statistics.
Linebacker Matt Hansen (11.8 tackles per game) is the top tackler in the conference. He is joined by Chris Edmond (8.5 tpg) and linebacker Dan O’Connell (7.7 tpg), along with Joe Harris, the CAA tackles for loss leader with 11.5.
UMaine’s defense must contain URI quarterback Steve Probst (111-for-195, 937 yds., 4 TDs, 7 INTs), a transfer from the defunct Hofstra program.
“He’s the guy that is the most important part of their offense because of the run-pass threat,” Cosgrove said.
The Rams, who like UMaine operate out of the spread, have two productive receivers in Brandon Johnson-Farrell (28 rec., 267 yds.) and Anthony Baskerville (24-236, 2 TDs). Ayo Isijola (65.2 ypg) is their top ballcarrier.
The Bears continue to seek more cohesiveness in the secondary, which has been burned for several long plays the past two weeks. Linebackers Donte Dennis (9.0 tpg) and Vinson Givans (6.7 tpg) have set a physical tone.
Bear tracks: UMaine is also likely to be without starting cornerback Dom Cusano (ankle) and starting defensive tackle Kevin Phanor (shoulder) because of injuries.
Massachusetts Maritime Buccaneers (4-3) at Maine Maritime Academy Mariners (5-1), noon, Ritchie Field, Castine: Not only are the Mariners and the Buccaneers playing for the coveted Admiral’s Trophy, which goes to the winner of the rivalry, both are tied at 3-1 atop the New England Football Conference Bogan Division standings. MMA has won six straight in the series.
Mass. Maritime faces the daunting task of slowing the nation’s most prolific rushing offense. Maine Maritime has churned out 509.7 yards per game with its option attack, led by senior fullback Jim Bower of South Paris (178 ypg).
Bower ranks second on MMA’s all-time rushing list with 5,216 yards, having passed Kirk Mathieu (5,107). He also is 15th in NCAA Division III history. Steve Tardif (’99) tops the MMA list at 6,093 yards.
Bower is complemented by junior QB Matt Rende of Augusta (128 ypg) and halfbacks Nick Bourassa of Jay (81 ypg) and Todd Murphy (67 ypg).
The Mariners, who are averaging 8.9 yards per carry, also lead Division III while scoring 47.7 points per outing.
Joel Chadbourne’s 10.5 tackles per game lead the defense for the Mariners, who handled Framingham State 50-26 a week ago.
The Buccaneers have won four of their last five, including last week’s 34-7 win over Fitchburg State. Mass. Maritime has solid offensive balance, but has been somewhat forgiving defensively.
Castleton State Spartans (3-3) at Husson Eagles (1-6), 1 p.m., Winkin Complex, Bangor: The Eagles return home for the first of two consecutive games, hoping to generate some late-season momentum.
Husson is coming off a 52-7 thrashing at Norwich, while Castleton State of Vermont edged Mount Ida 38-34 a week ago and has won three of its last four.
Safety Kyle Vanidestine of Bangor continues to rank among the top tacklers in the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference, averaging 10 per contest. Linebacker Mike Toothaker of Wilton is close behind with nine per game.
Castleton State features the ECFC’s leading passer in Steve Brozowski, who has completed 142 of 209 for 1,771 yards with six TDs and four INTs. Michael Patterson has caught 35 of those for 503 yards and one score.
Saturday’s other games: Hamilton (1-3) at Colby (1-3), noon; Trinity (3-1) at Bowdoin (1-3), 12:30 p.m.; Bates (1-3) at Middlebury (1-3), 1 p.m.