With two weeks to work on the problems that have left the University of Maine staring at early elimination from Football Championship Division playoff consideration, the Black Bears hope to begin a dramatic turnaround Saturday when they host Colonial Athletic Association rival Richmond.
The 18th-ranked Black Bears look to earn their first conference win of the season after dropping games to Towson and Villanova.
Richmond Spiders (2-3) at UMaine (2-3), noon Saturday, Morse Field, Orono: UMaine was off last weekend and is healthier across the board. Richmond beat Albnay 23-20 last Saturday.
UMaine head coach Nick Charlton said the Black Bears’ focus has been on execution.
“It doesn’t matter who we play. We’re a good team and we’re focusing on proving that,” senior linebacker Taji Lowe said.
Poor tackling, a minus-9 turnover margin, a sub-par running attack and the inability to pressure the opposing quarterback are the key issues that have hurt the Black Bears.
“We have to put the right emphasis on the passing game,” Charlton said. “It has certainly been a strength for us, but you’re never going to win with our turnover margin [eight interceptions]. We’ve got to run the football, and when we have a chance for explosive plays, we’ve got to take advantage of it.”
Richmond coach Russ Huesman said he knows what’s in store for his Spiders, which had a solid defensive performance against Albany but has been inconsistent offensively.
“They have an excellent quarterback [Chris Ferguson] who throws the ball all over the place,” Huesman said. “We have to get some pressure on him. And our offense has to figure out how to get a first down against a defense that is always athletic.”
Ferguson said the Spiders have a formidable defense headed up by All-American defensive lineman and preseason CAA Defensive Player of the Year Maurice Jackson, who made three sacks against Albany.
These are not only the league’s two worst rushing teams, UMaine (98.2 yards per game) and Richmond (75.6), but they also rank last in run defense. The Black Bears have allowed 198 ypg and Richmond has surrendered 233 ypg.
They do feature the league’s best pass defenses, with UMaine giving up 164.8 ypg and Richmond surrendering 195.2 ypg. The Black Bears have the league’s No. 2 passing attack (331.6 ypg).
Ferguson has completed 111 of 193 passes for 1,622 yards with five players hauling in at least 15 led by Jaquan Blair (30 for 404 yards) and Devin Young (20-306). Joe Fitzpatrick (41 carries, 208 yards) and Emmanuel Reed (48-203) are the leading rushers.
Linebackers Lowe (34 tackles) and Adrian Otero (29) and safety Josh Huffman have led the defense.
Richmond has two dual-threat quarterbacks in Beau English (48-for-68 passing, 527 yds.; 53 rushes, 131 yds.) and Joe Mancuso (36-52, 489 yds., 30 carries, 171 yds.). Charlie Fessler (26-344) and Keyston Fuller (24-435) lead the receivers.
The defensive mainstays are linebackers Tristan Wheeler (40 tackles) and Tyler Dressler (36).