All eyes will be on UMaine redshirt freshman quarterback Derek Robertson when the 0-2 Black Bears entertain 2-0 Merrimack College in a non-conference Football Championship Subdivision game on Saturday at noon.
It will be the first ever meeting between the two.
Robertson will be making his first collegiate start as he will be replacing the injured Joe Fagnano who suffered a high ankle sprain.
But close attention will also need to be placed on the UMaine defense, which has had its problems, especially against the pass, in its 34-24 loss to Delaware and 55-7 thumping at the hands of James Madison.
UMaine has allowed 44.5 points per game which is 99th among 114 teams in the FCS. However, 14 points came directly from a blocked punt return and an interception runback so the defense wasn’t at fault.
The Black Bears are 105th in pass defense efficiency as opponents are completing 63.9 percent of their passes for 320.5 yards per game and a total of six touchdowns.
Of particular concern is the fact Delaware and James Madison completed 16 passes of at least 17 yards including four in excess of 50 yards.
However, both have elite quarterbacks in Delaware’s Nolan Henderson and JMU’s Cole Johnson.
UMaine head coach Nick Charlton pointed out that his defense has done a nice job stopping the run especially against two teams that have very good ground attacks. So now it is a matter of doing a better job against the pass.
UMaine has allowed just 3.9 yards per rush.
“Getting pressure on the quarterback will be huge and we have to take a look at using some different [pass] coverages,” Charlton said.
UMaine has only two sacks and has yet to force a fumble or make an interception.
The UMaine defense had to be revamped after All-American linebacker Deshawn Stevens transferred to West Virginia and veteran defensive backs Katley Joseph and Shaquille St-Lot were sidelined by injuries.
But senior defensive end Jamehl Wiley said the defense is improving.
“We are getting closer every game. We just have to correct our mistakes. We need to stay confident and believe in ourselves and our coaching staff,” Wiley said.
“We have to create more havoc and more turnovers and make things easier for our offense,” he added.
Charlton said the Merrimack offense will definitely challenge his defense. Merrimack, which plays in the Northeast Conference, is coming off a 35-21 upset of No. 24 Holy Cross.
“They have a good quarterback who is an accurate passer and their receivers are solid,” said Charlton, who also praised Merrimack wide receiver Jacari Carter.
Merrimack quarterback Westin Elliott, who appeared in 12 games for Football Bowl Subdivision team Louisiana Tech before transferring to Merrimack, has completed 77 percent of his throws for 660 yards and seven touchdowns with three interceptions.
Four Warriors have caught at least nine passes, led by Carter’s 13 for 136 yards. Tyler Roberts has 10 for 94 and Johnny Rosario and Anthony Norcia each have nine catches for 156 and 107 yards, respectively. Running back Victor Dawson (28 carries, 180 yards) is the reigning NEC Rookie of the Week.
Safeties Josh Addo and Kenneth Cooper lead the Warrior defense with nine tackles each.
Merrimack is still in its probationary period in Division I after moving up from Division II and won’t be able to play for a conference title until 2023.
Robertson completed 8-of-22 passes for 88 yards and a touchdown against No. 3 JMU after replacing the injured Fagnano late in the first period.
Charlton said Merrimack likes to play a lot of man-to-man coverage so that could benefit receivers Devin Young (10 catches-62 yards), Andre Miller (6-90), Zavier Scott (5-77) and Jacob Hennie (5-63) along with tight end Shawn Bowman (5-83).
UMaine will continue to try to establish a running game. Elijah Barnwell has a team-high 94 yards on 26 carries.
Linebacker Ray Miller is averaging 10 tackles per game to lead the Colonial Athletic Association and tie him for 18th in the FCS and free safety Fofie Bazzie is third and tied for 30th, respectively, with nine per game.