A week off may be just what the doctor ordered for the University of Maine football team. Coming off last week’s bye week, the Black Bears were able to work out some of the problems and rest some of their injured players.
“We had some good-spirited practices and some good work,” UMaine coach Jack Cosgrove said during Monday’s Colonial Athletic Association teleconference. “We were able to get started up on UMass yesterday with a Sunday practice to take advantage of the opportunity to add a practice.”
The Black Bears are hoping the bye week helps as they head into this Saturday’s CAA showdown with longtime rival University of Massachusetts. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at Alfond Stadium.
One thing the Black Bears must improve on is their run game, which ranks 10th in the conference in rushing with just over 125 yards per game. That is very uncharacteristic for a UMaine squad, which ranked third last season and averaged just under 190 yards per game on the ground.
Despite their struggles running the ball, it can be attributed to the Black Bears now pass-heavy offense led by sophomore quarterback Warren Smith. Smith has passed for 10 touchdowns on the season and UMaine’s pass offense is averaging 209.6 yards through the air.
“We haven’t abandoned our run game but it sure looks like it,” Cosgrove said. “It was a theme last week that we need to improve it.”
Minutemen provide big test
Last season, the UMass football squad lost to UMaine at home 21-20, effectively ending its playoff chances as the Black Bears marched on to their first appearance since 2002. This season, UMaine could spoil the No. 19 Minutemen’s chances once again.
Despite being ranked in the top 25 and having a victory over then undefeated and No. 4 New Hampshire, UMass has already dropped three games including last week’s loss to No. 1 Richmond.
“They’ve been through a real grind here with three really tough football games in a row, but of course everyone goes through that,” Cosgrove said. “We’re not getting them at a very right time after a stinging loss.”
UMass’ offense ranks second in the league in total offense, with the league’s top passing offense led by quarterback Kyle Havens. Havens and the CAA’s top receiver Victor Cruz have become one of the top combinations in the league.
The Minutemen also have one of the strongest defenses in the conference, ranking 4th in the CAA in total defense. Linebackers Tyler Holmes (71) and Eric Dickson (56) are two of the conference’s top tacklers.
Armando Cuko is the top placekicker in the conference.
“They’re an excellent football team,” Cosgrove said. “They’re real balanced offensively, defensively and special teams.”
Turcotte done for season, Masterson may redshirt
For most of this season, UMaine has been without two of their most important players from a year ago. All-American sophomore fullback Jared Turcotte has not played at all this season after undergoing abdominal surgery, while senior linebacker Mark Masterson has been out since Sept. 12 after suffering an ankle injury.
Turcotte had surgery on Sept. 21 and will sit out the remainer of the season, according to Cosgrove.
“We’re not going to see him this year, but the prognosis for the future’s real good for him. We miss him and certainly look forward to him coming back with us.”
According to reports in the Portland Press Herald and Bangor Daily News, Masterson may miss the rest of this season and apply for a medical redshirt. If he was granted a medical redshirt by the NCAA, he would be eligible to play again in 2010.
Under NCAA rules, student-athletes competing in Division I have five years to complete four years of athletic eligibility once they begin classes as a freshman. Masterson began playing football in 2006, the year he enrolled at UMaine, and has yet to redshirt.