ORONO, Maine — Marcus Wasilewski knew he was going to learn under fire this season.
It was his first year as the starting quarterback at the University of Maine and, understandably, there were peaks and valleys.
“I learn a little bit from every game, from both the good and the bad. Now I need to take the next step and become a better quarterback,” said Wasilewski.
He and his Black Bears will conclude their season against the winless Rhode Island Rams on Saturday at noon in Kingston, R.I.
Maine is 4-6 overall, 3-4 in the Colonial Athletic Association, while URI is 0-10, 0-7, respectively.
Wasilewski has completed 60.4 percent of his passes (191-for-316) for 2,163 yards and 17 touchdowns. He has been intercepted 11 times. He has also run for 258 yards and three touchdowns on 90 carries.
“I have gotten more comfortable on the field managing the offense,” said Wasilewski, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound junior from Kulpmont, Pa. “That has been a big step for me due to my lack of experience. But now I sit back behind the line of scrimmage and I can conduct the offense.”
“I need to progress with that and to continue to learn about different defenses,” added Wasilewski. “That will help my decision-making.”
“I’ve been very, very happy with where he has grown to from the perspective of a complete quarterback,” said Maine coach Jack Cosgrove. “He has really developed his leadership skills. And his abilities as a passer and runner are getting better all the time.”
Cosgrove said there is a process that all new quarterbacks have to endure.
“When you’re the new guy at quarterback, it’s hard initially to decide the time to be the quarterback and the leader. You’ve got to make throws, get the team in the right protection and call the right plays [to earn credibility among your teammates],” explained Cosgrove, a former Black Bear quarterback himself.
“I really feel like the Delaware game was big for him in that way. On a big stage, he [directed] a very big win for us,” said Cosgrove. “We were able to run and pass. He put us in some great run checks. David [Hood] and Ricky [Stevens] had big games and Marcus made some great throws versus pressure.”
Maine upset No. 16 Delaware 26-3 in Delaware. Wasilewski completed 12 of 18 passes for 176 yards and three touchdowns, and Hood and Stevens combined for 170 rushing yards on 27 carries.
“That is when he started quarterbacking and leading,” said Cosgrove.
Another quality Cosgrove has liked is Wasilewski’s ability to bounce back from a subpar performance.
“That has been impressive to see,” said Cosgrove.
For example, Wasilewski was intercepted three times in a 31-7 loss to James Madison, but he threw for four touchdowns in Saturday’s 51-7 win over Georgia State.
“It was good to see how he responded,” said Cosgrove.
Wasilewski has learned how to prepare for games.
“One of the things [offensive coordinator Kevin Bourgoin] said to me is that my preparation had to be on point,” said Wasilewski. “Teams might come at me with different blitzes or things I had never seen before. I took it to heart and put in a lot of study time preparing for games.”
He said he and the offensive unit have gotten more comfortable as a whole as they have gotten used to each other.
“We’ve learned how to play together better,” said Wasilewski.
Cosgrove, Wasilewski and the Black Bears would like to continue building momentum for next season with a win over URI. It would give them their first two-game winning streak of the season.
But they aren’t taking the Rams lightly.
“Over the previous two years at home, Rhode Island had seven wins and five were against nationally ranked opponents,” said Cosgrove. “We respect the hell out of them. It’s going to be their seniors’ last game.”
But Cosgrove is quick to point out that his team is hungry, too.
“If you aren’t going to the postseason, wins become even more important,” said Cosgrove. “We have a chance to win two in a row for the first time this season, get our fifth [overall] win and our fourth in the conference. Those are important things for our seniors and our program.”
“You always have to respect your opponent, no matter who it is,” said Wasilewski. “Any team can have a heck of a day, especially in this conference. Guys are on scholarships and they know how to make plays. It’s Seniors Day for them and they’ll be excited.”
Wasilewski said a win for the Black Bears will “give us momentum to take into the offseason,” and he would like to give the 12 seniors a proper sendoff.
Following the season, he will sit down and analyze his season by watching tape.
“I’d like to have more wins, but it is what it is. It has been a great learning experience and I’m going to keep on learning,” said Wasilewski.
Maine (4-6, 3-4 in CAA) at Rhode Island (0-10, 0-7), noon, Meade Stadium, Kingston, R.I.: The Black Bears should be able to move the ball against an injury-riddled defense that is next-to-last in virtually every defensive category including points allowed (37.7 per game) and total yards allowed (463.9). Stevens has averaged 5.8 yards per carry. URI’s offense is dead last in every category, including points per game (9.9) and yards per game (248.5). Maine is eighth in points per game (23.6) and seventh in total yards (363). The Black Bears’ scoring defense is second-best (20.9 ppg) and seventh in yards allowed per game (363). URI wide receiver Brandon Johnson-Farrell is third in the conference in all-purpose yards (125 ypg) and Billy Morgan is the CAA’s second-best kickoff returner (22.3 yards per return). Maine linebacker Donte Dennis needs 14 tackles to become the first player in Maine history to make 100 tackles in three different seasons.