University of Maine head football coach Nick Charlton and his team have turned the page on the first portion of their schedule.
UMaine’s 41-14 loss to Football Bowl Subdivision team Northern Illinois left the Black Bears at 1-3 as they enter a bye week. The team won’t play again until Oct. 9, when it kicks off the second half of its schedule by hosting Colonial Athletic Association rival Elon (North Carolina) beginning at noon at Alfond Stadium.
UMaine is 0-2 in conference play with six CAA games remaining, along with a Nov. 13 game at FBS team UMass.
“We aren’t where we want to be right now,” said Charlton on Monday’s CAA coaches’ conference call. “We have very high expectations and we have a big stretch of winnable names coming up. But we’re going to have to play well.”
UMaine has had a gruelling early schedule with games against FCS No. 3 James Madison, No. 9 Delaware, an FBS team in NIU and a Merrimack College team that is 3-1.
Charlton said his team had a legitimate chance to win the Northern Illinois game but didn’t play well in the second half after being in a 14-14 tie in the second quarter.
He said his players are “aggravated” that they haven’t gotten off to a better start but Charlton said they all remain confident they can regroup and string together a strong run.
“These guys are workers and they are resilient,” Charlton said. “Everything is still in front of us.”
UMaine will need to shore up its defense if it is going to make a run the rest of the way and Charlton feels progress is being made, even though the statistics reveal that it is ranked near the bottom in most FCS categories.
UMaine has allowed 462.8 yards per game, which is 106th among 123 teams. The 39 points per game allowed is 102nd and the pass defense is 111th as it is surrendering 301.2 passing yards per game.
UMaine is 73rd in rushing defense, surrendering 161.5 yards per game.
“We have stopped the run in spells,” Charlton said. “But we’ve got to be very consistent. That has to be a staple of our defense. We also have to win one-on-ones. That’s a big part in going forward.”
He said free safety Fofie Bazzie, who leads the team in tackles (39) and pass breakups (4), and linebackers Ray Miller (32 tackles) and Adrian Otero (25) have played consistently well.
Charlton has been encouraged by the improvement in the running game, which has been a trademark of UMaine teams in the past. After managing just 123 rushing yards on 60 attempts in losses to Delaware (34-24) and James Madison (55-7), UMaine has rushed for 229 yards on 66 carries in a win over Merrimack (31-26) and the loss at Northern Illinois.
Sophomore Freddie Brock has carried the ball 28 times for 132 yards over the last two games including 85 yards on 18 carries against NIU. Redshirt junior Elijah Barnwell has churned out 107 yards on 22 carries in the two games.
“We are getting back to our identity and to what we want to do,” Charlton said.
Charlton also said redshirt freshman quarterback Derek Robertson, filling in for the injured Joe Fagnano (ankle), continues to get better.
Robertson completed 14 of 26 passes for 165 yards against NIU after completing 11-of-23 for 141 yards and a touchdown in the win over Merrimack in his first collegiate start.
“Derek hasn’t made a mental error yet. He just made a couple of physical errors. But our passing game is only going to improve,” said Charlton, who has also been pleased with the special teams.
Charlton also noted that his veterans have been on teams that didn’t get off to good starts but they found a way to finish strong. In 2019, UMaine started 2-5 but won four of its last five to salvage a 6-6 season.
And in 2018, when UMaine won the CAA title and reached the FCS semifinals for the first time in school history, the Black Bears were 2-2 after their first four games before winning eight of their last 10.
On the injury front, he said Fagnano will remain sidelined “indefinitely” and there is no timeline for his return but defensive end Jamehl Wiley, who missed the NIU game with an ankle injury, should be back for the Elon contest.
The players will have a few days off and the coaching staff will review the team’s schemes and personnel, something he said they do every bye week regardless of how the team is doing.
In addition, the coaching staff will also devote time to recruiting.