UMaine quarterback Derek Robertson at the first football practice of the season in early August. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The University of Maine football team’s offensive performance against the University of Rhode Island in Friday night’s 34-17 loss again left a lot to be desired.

After a game-opening, 12-play, 75-yard drive produced a 2-yard Tristen Kenan touchdown run, the Black Bears mustered just 10 points the rest of the way, including a second-half showing in which they were held scoreless and managed just 57 total yards and five first downs.

Four of those first downs came on their last drive of the game, a drive that was thwarted by an interception.

The Black Bears have now scored just 36 points in their first three games, and their 12 points per game average is tied for 106th fewest among 122 Football Championship Subdivision schools. Their third-down conversion rate of 28.95 percent ties them for 96th.

UMaine has scored only 13 points in the second half of its three games.

However, the three losses have come to a pair of nationally ranked Football Championship Subdivision schools, North Dakota State (2nd) and Rhode Island (17th in one poll, 18th in the other), and a Football Bowl Subdivision team in Florida International that earned a road win against a University of Connecticut team that went to a bowl game last season.

Football Bowl Subdivision teams have 22 more scholarships and more resources than Football Championship Subdivision schools.

“Our offense has been strong in bursts,” said UMaine head football coach Jordan Stevens during Monday’s weekly Coastal Athletic Association media conference call. “But we have to find ways to get the ball in the hands of our playmakers, guys who can make defenders miss in space and create their own plays.”

Stevens did credit the running back group, Tristen Kenan and John Gay, with doing a great job.  

“And we were able to protect [quarterback Derek Robertson] better this week. As a team, particularly on offense, there are fundamental things we have to continue to work on and do a better job at. There are some simple running plays that we have to execute better,” he added.

Kenan and Gay are averaging an admirable 4.9 yards per carry. True freshman Kenan has carried the ball 56 times for 243 yards and three touchdowns while graduate student Gay has gained 139 yards on 22 carries and one TD. 

Kenan ran for 82 yards on 18 carries against Rhode Island.

UMaine has been outscored 55-19 in the second and third quarters and that trend is being addressed.

“We have to play better in the middle part of the game so we put ourselves in position to win at the end,” Stevens said.

Robertson has completed a respectable 58.25 percent of his passes (60-for-103) for 517 yards but has been intercepted four times and has yet to throw a TD pass.

Lafayette University transfer wide receiver Joe Gillette was one of the offensive bright spots against URI with six catches for 42 yards.

“Joe has been a great addition to this team. He’s a hard-working young man who does all the right things. He suffered a quad injury at the end of (training) camp but now you’re seeing him at his best and he will continue to get better as he integrates more into the offense and gets more reps,” Stevens said.

The UMaine coach was reasonably pleased with the defense, although URI went 13-for-18 in third down conversions.

“We couldn’t get off the field,” Stevens lamented. “Rhode Island is a great third down team. But there were a lot of good things to pull from our defense.”

A pair of sophomores and first-year starters, linebacker Darius McKenzie and end Xavier Holmes, had game-highs in tackles (11) and tackles for lost yards (3), respectively.

“I’m excited about the progress they’ve made and they will be the leaders of our defense for years to come,” Stevens said.

The Black Bears will take on their third ranked Football Championship Subdivision opponent on Saturday when they visit No. 5 William and Mary, which is 3-0 and the preseason favorite in the conference coaches poll. William and Mary shared the conference title with New Hampshire last season.

“They’re a very good football team. They will be a huge challenge for us. They’re a big physical team in all three phases. They have a great quarterback group and running back group and their defense is very sound and plays with a lot of passion,” Stevens said. “They have held teams to 12.9 percent (success) on third down and that’s unheard of.”

Led by reigning national Football Championship Subdivision defensive player of the week, end Nate Lynn, William and Mary‘s defense leads the 122 subdivision schools in opponentts’ third down conversion rate and yards allowed per game (187.7). It is fifth stingiest in points allowed (12.33).

William and Mary head coach Mike London said his team will not be taking the Black Bears lightly.

“You look at the teams they’ve played and you have one of the top programs in the FCS in North Dakota State (9 national titles the last 12 years), another nationally ranked team in Rhode Island and an FBS school. So you can’t put a whole lot of credence in their record. Playing those teams make them tougher and more resilient,” London said. “They have a really good quarterback and a really good running back (Kenan) and their front seven (on defense) get after it.”

Stevens isn’t dwelling on the team’s tough schedule and 0-3 start.
“We have to improve daily. We have to show growth and learn from our mistakes,” Stevens said. “I’m excited about what’s to come for this team because we have a great culture and I know we’re strong and able to take on whatever comes next.”