ORONO, Maine — Last year, Chris Ferguson made his University of Maine debut.
The redshirt freshman earned the starting quarterback job and made his first start against archrival New Hampshire.
Playing in front of 15,854 at Wildcat Stadium in Durham, New Hampshire, he turned in a solid performance, completing 23 of 44 passes for 239 yards and tossing three touchdown passes in a 24-23 loss. He was also intercepted twice, the second coming with 25 seconds left.
Ferguson finished the season completing 54.6 percent of his passes (171 of 313) for 2,064 yards. He threw 16 TD passes and was picked off 11 times.
UMaine finished fifth in passing offense among the 12 Colonial Athletic Association schools at 214.2 yards per game ranked third in total offense (388.4 ypg).
With a year under his belt, expectations are even higher for the 6-foot-3, 215-pound native of Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, as the Black Bears prepare for Thursday night’s opener against nationally ranked New Hampshire on Morse Field in Alfond Stadium.
Ferguson said he is ready to take the next step.
“We talk about that a lot, handling everything, handling situations. The fourth quarter … we’ve got to be on point; we have to execute,” Ferguson said.
UMaine was outscored 58-13 in the fourth quarter of its six losses.
“You learn from it. Those are experiences you need, and you’re going to go through. If you take them and learn from them, figure out what went wrong and change it, that’s important,” Ferguson said.
Head coach Joe Harasymiak and offensive coordinator Nick Charlton have observed an improved and stronger Ferguson.
“He has more confidence. That’s a big thing,” Harasymiak said. “And another key thing is the confidence his teammates have in him. They believe in him.”
“ I’m going to go out and play and let my abilities take over, kind of go on autopilot,” Ferguson said. “All the preparation I’ve put in will show through.”
Charlton said Ferguson has a “better understanding of the offense. He is reacting [better] to different things. He has really improved.”
One area of preparation has been his footwork, and Ferguson feels he is getting quicker and should be able to be more elusive in the pocket — although he was sacked a league-low 19 times a year ago.
“We have a pro spread style of offense, so I’m not involved [in running the ball]. But being able to scramble and make plays on the run when stuff breaks down is important,” Ferguson said.
“Escapability is not his strength, but he has learned how to get himself a couple of extra seconds to make a throw, and he is able to adapt to different things. He sees the field better and can feel the rush better,” Harasymiak said.
“He just needs to be able to extend plays,” Charlton said.
UNH coach Sean McDonnell said Ferguson showed a “great level of maturity a year ago.”
Another valuable aid to Ferguson will be his supporting cast.
“We think we have the best wide receiving corps in the league,” Charlton said. “And [tight end/H-back] Drew [Belcher] will be a weapon in the run and passing game. We’ll also do some things with our backs coming out of the backfield. He’ll have a lot of guys to throw to.”
Ferguson has an inexperienced offensive line but has been impressed with that unit.
“They’re so dedicated. They work hard and that’s all you can ask for. They’re all going to be good players,” Ferguson said.
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