University of Maine wide receiver Andre Miller knew there would be a target on his back coming into this season.
The Old Town native was a first team All-Colonial Athletic Association selection this past spring when he caught 21 passes for 348 yards and six touchdowns in four games. He led the CAA in receptions per game (5.25) and receiving yards per game (87).
He tied for the conference lead in touchdown receptions during the regular season.
He was then chosen to two preseason All-CAA teams and was on the Reese’s Senior Bowl watchlist.
But that means opposing teams devise ways to neutralize him because they recognize how important he is to their offense.
He has found himself being double-teamed or having the opponents put their best coverage cornerbacks on him.
And he has had to adapt to a new quarterback as redshirt freshman Derek Robertson continues to fill in for the injured Joe Fagnano (high ankle sprain).
But Miller is resilient and is taking things in stride.
He had his best game of the season in UMaine’s last game, a 41-14 loss to Football Bowl Subdivision team Northern Illinois on Sept. 25, hauling in five passes for 87 yards.
He is hoping to build on that when UMaine returns to CAA play with a noon game Saturday against visiting Elon University from North Carolina.
UMaine is 1-3 overall and 0-2 in the CAA, while Elon is 2-3 and 1-1. Two of Elon’s three losses have been by a combined five points.
Miller has 14 catches this fall for a team-high 197 yards. He has caught a touchdown pass.
He is second on the team in receptions behind Devin Young, who has 18 catches for 153 yards.
He acknowledged that opponents are trying to “throw me off [my game],” but he said the UMaine coaching staff is lining him up in different positions to try to get him in a desirable matchup or to open up some real estate for him.
“And if they put extra people on me, that opens up everything else and we have a lot of other weapons,” said Miller, who added that he has complete faith in Robertson, who is improving with every game.
UMaine head coach Nick Charlton said Miller is “starting to pick it up. We move him around like we do with all of our skilled guys to try to free them up. He’s working through that.”
His next reception will be the 80th of his UMaine career and 93rd of his college career.
He had 13 catches for 152 yards in his one season at NCAA Division III Husson University in Bangor before transferring to UMaine.
Miller had a breakthrough game in his first season at UMaine when he made nine catches for 129 yards in the team’s loss to Eastern Washington in the FCS semifinals. He finished with 16 catches for 287 yards in 2018 and followed that with 28 catches for 529 yards and four touchdowns in 2019.
“He does everything,” Robertson said. “He makes plays I’ve never seen anybody else make. He makes my job a lot easier.”
UMaine safety Fofie Bazzie said it is difficult to cover him one-on-one because of his skillset and the fact he is 6-foot-3.
Miller is looking forward to Saturday’s game and knows the team is facing a quality opponent in Elon.
He said the Black Bears have to do a better job converting on third down. UMaine has converted just 25 percent of its third down plays into first downs.
“We have to be able to keep drives alive,” he said.
Charlton said the Black Bears are going to have to run the ball effectively, be more consistent shutting down the opponents’ running game and do a better job in one-on-one coverages in the secondary.
Elon, behind senior quarterback Davis Cheek, has the CAA’s second-best passing attack averaging 277.4 yards per game, while UMaine’s pass defense is the league’s worst, allowing 301.3 passing yards per game.
Robertson has completed 33 of 71 passes for 394 yards and two touchdowns. He has been intercepted once. Elijah Barnwell (48 carries, 201 yards) and Freddie Brock (40 for 163) are UMaine’s leading rushers, although Barnwell is dealing with an ankle injury. Bazzie leads the team in tackles (39) and pass breakups (4,) while Ray Miller and Adrian Otero have made 32 and 25 tackles, respectively.
Cheek has completed 127 of 208 passes for 1,402 yards and eight touchdowns with two interceptions. Jackson Parham (29 catches-446 yards), Kortez Wells (23-243) and Chandler Brayboy (21-172) are his favorite receivers. Jaylan Thomas is the leading rusher (70-for-276) but the Phoenix are averaging just 3.3 yards per carry.
Devonte Chandler (41 tackles), reigning CAA Defensive Player of the Week Cole Coleman (32 tackles, 2 forced fumbles) and Omar Rogers (32 tackles, 2 interceptions) spark a defensive unit that stopped Richmond inside the 10-yard line three times in a 20-7 win last Saturday.