The University of Pittsburgh featured one of the biggest offensive lines the UMaine football teams has faced in recent memory.
The unit averaged 6 feet, 5 1/2 inches and 309 pounds from tackle to tackle.
The size disparity did not prevent the Black Bears’ defensive front from making a statement about its talent and stamina.
Sophomore end Michael Cole (6-foot-2, 250 pounds) set the tone for UMaine, maneuvering his way around the Panthers’ line to make eight tackles, including 2 1/2 sacks, along with two quarterback hurries.
“Mike Cole was exceptional with our blitz package and just his ability to overmatch a guy who was 6-foot-7, 315-(3)20 pounds,” said UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove. “Mike just did a tremendous job throughout the game of playing hard.”
Defensive tackles Raibonne Charles of Windham (5 tackles) and Kevin Phanor (4 tackles) and end Doug Alston (5 tackles) took the vast majority of the reps, with ends Erwin Roach and Craig Capella spelling them.
UMaine’s task was complicated by the fact sixth-year senior tackle Ryan Nani was lost to an undisclosed injury with only 4 1/2 minutes gone in the first quarter.
That meant a long day for Charles and Phanor, each of whom was on the field for most of Pitt’s 90 plays from scrimmage.
The Bears registered seven sacks on the afternoon, with linebacker Arron Achey making two, Alston logging 1 1/2 and one being credited to the team.
Achey also wound up missing most of the game after getting hurt early in the game. He made four tackles while in the game.
Achey was spelled by junior transfer Sam Shipley, who posted seven tackles in his Division I debut.
“Particularly impressive was, we suffered two major injuries early in the game to two of our guys we were counting on to play,” Cosgrove said. “We had guys taking 70-plus reps on the D-line and that wasn’t the plan going in on a hot day like that.”
UMaine gave up 381 yards, but managed to keep Panthers tailback Ray Graham pretty well in check. He netted 121 yards on 28 carries and scored three times and caught five passes for 30 yards.
The Bears did not allow any runs of more than 16 yards, while the longest pass play went for 25 yards.
“I thought our defense really played our game plan right to a T,” Cosgrove said. “We really had an outstanding effort. They had to make plays to beat us.”
SMITH DEMONSTRATES DEVELOPMENT
UMaine quarterback Warren Smith demonstrated his growth Saturday with another solid performance.
The senior from Forked River, N.J., turned in one of his best games statistically since joining the Bears in 2009. Smith completed 27 of 45 passes good for a career-high 334 yards and three touchdowns. He was not intercepted for the second straight game.
Smith also gained 14 yards on 10 carries. He was sacked three times.
“Warren played a very solid football game for us,” Cosgrove said. “I enjoyed watching the tape last night and seeing his decision-making process and his authoritative state that he he was (in) throughout the course of the game.”
Aside from the physical aspects of his game, Smith appears to have refined the approach to how he plays. He is taking greater care throwing the ball and doesn’t seem to be taking the kind of chances that got him into trouble in the past.
“He’s really demonstrated that he’s learned from some hard experiences last year, along the lines of management of the game and ball security, especially,” Cosgrove said.
Smith’s tenacity and resolve also have been evident. On Saturday, with the Bears trailing by 20 points, he directed the offense on back-to-back touchdown drives in the last 8 minutes, 39 seconds to make a game of it.
“I was really impressed with how he finished the football game and in particular some plays he made down the stretch,” said Cosgrove, who pointed to the fact UMaine was largely unable to run the ball effectively against Pitt.
That put even more pressure on the pass game.
“We were able to find some throwing lanes and he created some plays,” Cosgrove said. “In particular, the last touchdown pass he threw in the game (to Maurice McDonald) was really an outstanding effort on his part, avoiding the rush, scrambling, going to his left, twisting his body and really threading the needle on a touchdown throw that was just an incredibly athletic and impressive football play.”
UM BASEBALL SETS ELITE CAMP
UMaine is gearing up for its Elite Prospect Camp, which is slated for Oct. 9 at Mahaney Diamond in Orono.
The clinic, designed for the serious college/professional baseball prospect, will concentrate on perfecting fundamentals. Players will be exposed to coaches from UMaine and other colleges.
The session will include a pro-style workout, with instruction from UMaine coaches and players. It is open to players ages 15-18.
The cost is $125 and includes lunch and a T-shirt. For more information, contact UMaine assistant coach Jason Spaulding at 207-581-1098 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Registration forms are available at GoBlackBears.com.