Maine linebacker Deshawn Stevens leads the Black Bears with 22 tackles after two games. Ronald Gillis photo

Statistically, the University of Maine’s defense is not off to a good start in the Colonial Athletic Association’s spring football season.

The Black Bears are giving up 35.5 points per game (10th in the 11-team CAA), 184.5 rushing yards (9th) and 331.0 total yards (7th).

But those in the program say the stats are deceiving.

“Our guys are close,” Maine defensive coordinator Mike Ryan said on Wednesday. “We’ve got some really talented kids and it’s really about getting reps in game situations and understanding how to finish. I think we’re progressing.”

Maine (1-1) will need to have its defense in order at noon Saturday when it travels to play Stony Brook (0-2).

The Seawolves, while averaging only 8.0 points per game, traditionally favor a physical running game – the exact style that has created problems for the Black Bears.


The Black Bears did show some improvement in their second game. After Delaware held the ball for more than 38 minutes in a 37-0 win, Albany had it for only 24:57 in Maine’s 38-34 victory last Saturday. Delaware punted only four times (three after the starters were out), and Albany punted six times, including the last time it touched the ball in the fourth quarter.

“I think they’ve been doing a great job,” said senior linebacker Deshawn Stevens, who leads Maine with 22 tackles. “For a group of young guys who are coming together and getting their first collegiate starts under their belt, they’ve been doing a great job.

“I understand the stats don’t reflect truly the work they’re putting out there. But when you look at the tape, you see a bunch of guys who run to the ball, who are still aggressive at the point of attack, and still try their best to communicate and get on the same page. So each week has been a building block for this group.”

Coach Nick Charlton said a big step would be creating turnovers and getting sacks. The Black Bears don’t have any sacks, although they pressured Albany quarterback Jeff Undercuffler repeatedly, and they only have one takeaway. They also need to eliminate penalties. Maine had 12 against Albany, six resulting in a first down.

“There’s plenty to improve on,” said Charlton. “We’re looking for ways to create pass rush, particularly on third down. I think we’re progressing. We’re not where we need to be at yet. That’s the same in all three phases.”

Maine’s opponents are averaging 4.7 yards per rush, an unusually high number against the Black Hole defense. But Ryan said part of that is by design.


“We’ve got new players in the back end and we’ve got to call the game to keep them in mind,” said Ryan. “We’ve had to be a little less aggressive than we like to be … Hopefully now that we’re a couple of games in, we can be a little more aggressive with what want to do schematically.”

Ryan likes what he’s seen from some of the redshirt freshmen, such as defensive end Khairi Manns (13 tackles, third on the team), safety Robby Riobe (15 tackles, second on the team) and linebacker Xavier Nurse (who will play a bigger role with junior Ori Jean-Charles out because of an injury).

“Like everyone else, we have bits and pieces we’re trying to build on,” said Ryan.

NOTES: Two CAA games this weekend – Delaware at New Hampshire and Richmond at James Madison – have been postponed because of COVID-19 related protocols. It has not been determined if those games will be made up. James Madison’s game last weekend against William & Mary was also called off.

Charlton and his players spoke about taking care of themselves and keeping the program clean. No one involved in the program has had a positive test result. “Every day, it’s a point of emphasis,” said Charlton. “We’re very fortunate that we’ve been able to make good decisions. They guys have sacrificed a lot to get it … This is a very contagious disease and we have to do our best to avoid it. But even sometimes when you make great decisions, things can happen.”

Wide receiver Jacob Hennie said Charlton reminds them at every practice of the stakes. “We’re doing our very best to maintain the kind of safety we have here,” he said. “I think that will be the biggest factor in this short season, who can stay the most healthy. We’re taking every precaution we can.”

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