Yes, defense travels. Yes, defense wins championships. But it’s hard to get to the point where you’re traveling to those championship games when you only score 10 points while gaining just 187 yards of total offense.
Fortunately, that exact offensive output was enough to push our beloved Black Bears past the even-more-hapless Norfolk State Spartans, 10-6, in last Saturday’s opener at the Alfond Sports Stadium in Orono. It’s hard to believe, though, that those numbers will be enough moving forward.
Perhaps “offensive” is the best word to describe Maine’s offense on Saturday night. At times, the game was just plain difficult to watch when Maine had the ball. Sophomore quarterback Dan Collins, making his first collegiate start, seemed timid and even downright scared, particularly early in the going. From that, Maine Sports Hall of Famer Jack Cosgrove seemed more and more reluctant to trust Collins with anything beyond a hand-off as the game progressed. As a result, Collins’ first box score as a starter read an unconvincing 8-20 for 92 yards and a touchdown pass. He also gained 25 yards on 14 rush attempts, many of which were the result of Collins running for his life due to poor pass protection from a very inexperienced and overmatched offensive line (Collins was also sacked three times).
Certainly, Collins was not the only problem with Maine’s offense. In fact, his poor performance and general shakiness might be just as much the result of Maine’s offensive issues and not, in itself, the root cause. As we wrote in our Maine Football season preview, with the departure of a graduated Marcus Wasilewski under center, the Black Bears will need enhanced contributions this season from everyone who doesn’t play quarterback. Many of those contributions needed to come from the running backs and the offensive line so as to give Collins time to put himself in the best possible position to be successful.
On Saturday night, neither unit delivered. In addition to the aforementioned three sacks of Collins allowed by the offensive line, the running game managed to gain just 95 yards, despite Coach Cosgrove’s conservative play-calling. Specifically, it took Maine running the ball 43 times to gain those 95 yards (that’s 2.2 yards per carry, for those of you scoring at home). The Black Bear offense also lost two fumbles during the game. From those numbers, it’s evident that neither the running backs nor the offensive line is ready for prime time.
Fortunately for Cosgrove, for as bad as Maine’s offense was, its defense was nothing short of spectacular on Saturday night. The Black Bears allowed just 100 yards of total Spartan offense and only 49 total yards in the final three quarters. Star defensive end Trevor Bates was also indirectly responsible for three of Maine’s 10 points. Bates made a tremendous deflection-turned-interception deep in Norfolk St. territory to give Maine a 1st & goal from the Spartan 8, which led to a Maine field goal in the 3rd quarter. That’s right…the Black Bear offense could only muster a field goal from eight yards out. Perhaps no sequence better summarized Maine’s night on both sides of the ball than that one.
Looking ahead, the good news for Coach Cosgrove’s squad is they have two weeks to prepare for their first road game of the season against Bryant on September 13. That means Collins will get two more weeks to scrimmage against Maine’s daunting defense and the offense will have two weeks to devise and implement a game plan to break through a Bulldog defense that, themselves, allowed only 186 yards in a season-opening win at Stony Brook last Thursday.
In short, for as low as the expectations of Maine’s offense were heading into the season, the Black Bears were not up to the task of meeting them against the Spartans. Coach Cosgrove will need to use all of his hall of fame experience to get his offense to a place where they aren’t exclusively reliant on the defense to win games. If he’s able to do that in advance of both the Bryant game and a sure-to-be-tough CAA conference schedule, we might see his Black Bears win a lot of games by scorelines very similar to Saturday night’s. If he’s not, our prediction of a 7-4 season might be even more of a homer pick than we originally thought.
What did you think of Maine’s opening weekend performance and what it means for the rest of the season? Leave your opinions in the comments section below and join the conversation on Twitter using #FillTheSteins!
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