The UMaine football team, under new head coach Jordan Stevens, has converted just 28 percent of third down opportunities on offense through the first three games. Opponents have completed nearly 50 percent of third down opportunities against the Black Bears. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

University of Maine football Coach Jordan Stevens said Monday that his team has plenty to work on during its bye week before starting conference play on Oct. 1 with a home game against Villanova.

On Saturday night, Maine lost 38-17 at Boston College to drop to 0-3, but the first-year head coach saw signs of improvement.

“I thought we took a step forward in each phase of the game. It was good to see us get out to a faster start and get a score early and get on Boston College early,” Stevens said during a media conference call with Colonial Athletic Association coaches. “To have an opportunity to have a bye week before a strong opponent like Villanova is huge for us.

“Obviously, we haven’t had the outcomes we want. No one’s happy about that.”

Against BC, Maine scored in the first half for the first time this season. Joe Fagnano’s 17-yard touchdown pass to Shawn Bowman late in the first quarter gave Maine a short-lived 10-7 lead over the Eagles. Just over two minutes later, BC took the lead for good. Maine accumulated 378 yards Saturday, up from the 362 yards gained in the previous week’s 21-18 loss to Colgate, which was a huge jump from the 118 yards gained in the season-opening 41-0 loss to New Mexico.

Fagnano threw for 289 yards against the Eagles, while Zavier Scott had a career-high 135 yards receiving on eight catches. Having Tyrie Francois back at left tackle after missing the Colgate game with an injury was key, Stevens said.


“(Fagnano) did it even when he was under pressure. We expect his play to continue to improve throughout the season,” Stevens said. “I feel like this is a moment when all of (Scott’s) work has come together. He was a different guy on Saturday. He was assertive. When he was catching the ball he was getting up the field.”

Improved offensive play should help Maine fix a glaring weakness so far this season: third-down conversions. Maine is just 13 for 46 on third down tries through three games, for a 28 percent success rate, last in the CAA. Against BC, Maine was 6 for 15 on third down, an improvement to 40 percent. Conversely, Maine’s three opponents are a combined 19 for 40 converting third down.

Penalties are another area in which the Black Bears need to improve. While Maine’s 23 penalties for 170 yards is middle of the pack in the conference, the timing of the flags has been costly. Saturday, right after Maine took its first-quarter lead, the Black Bears gave the Eagles a first down with a defensive holding penalty on a BC incompletion. Later in the first quarter, an offensive personal foul penalty turned a second down and 4 into second and 18, effectively stalling the Maine drive.

Against Colgate on Sept. 10, false start and holding penalties on back-to-back plays in the first quarter pushed Maine back from close to midfield to its own 27, wiping out another promising drive.

“You look at it, a lot of our drive killers, areas where we’re giving up points, it has to do with penalties. We’ve got to clean up some of those things,” Stevens said.

There’s no doubt Maine’s made the most improvement in its pass rush. Last season, the Black Bears had just 12 sacks in 11 games. Three sacks against BC brought Maine’s total for the season to nine in three games. Defensive lineman Justin Sambu leads the team with three sacks, one in each game.

With an extra week to address those issues, Maine also gets some rest before hosting Villanova, which was picked to win the league in the CAA’s preseason poll. The Wildcats are ranked No. 9 in the latest American Football Coaches Association FCS national poll. Maine was picked eighth in the 13-team CAA in the preseason.

“Even before the season, looking at our schedule, I thought this was a good timing for us as a staff, as a team. It’s a good opportunity for us to get our guys legs back,” Stevens said.

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