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Back to the Future

The first time we were to play the Maine Black Bears was back on Sept. 15th, 2001. They were a top FCS program, and we were still Div. II (how we got them to come to Fargo to play is a mystery). Then everything stopped with the World Trade Center attack. Twenty-two years later we get to rumble this Saturday in Fargo. Now we are THE TOP PROGRAM in the FCS and Maine is struggling to refind its former self. Since 2014 they are a cumulative six games under .500, with only one season in the playoffs in 2018 when they made the FCS semis, losing to E Washington.

Last year Maine brought back one of its own to steer the ship as head coach. Jordan Stevens was a star DE for the Black Bears from 2006-2009. In his first season last year they finished 2-9 but were competitive. They lost five games by 3 pts, 1 pt, 4 pts, 2 pts and 1 pt (OT loss). They ranked 87th in Total D, giving up 412.5 YPG and 87th in scoring D yielding 31.5 PPG. These stats, by the way, were mirror images of where UND finished for defense last year.

Last week they hung in there with the second worst FBS program in the land according to Sagarin, Florida International. They failed to convert on a 2 pt conversion early in the 3rd quarter to tie the game at 14. They had several chances to win but fell 14-12.

I watched this game twice to scout out what the Herd will face this week. Here is what I saw. FIU was all pass, so it’s hard to assess the overall strength of the Black Bears D. They were assignment strong and weren’t blown off the line, but they weren’t tested. FIU backs only carried the ball 12 times for 42 yards (3.5 YPG). Their QB carried 8 times for 7 yards. He reminded me of E Wash QB last week versus the Herd (11 carries and 9 yards), a lot of jukes, but not much yardage. Also, he is a true freshman with huge expectations having led his Miami HS team to several state championships. He gained 31 yards on 5 of his carries but was sacked 3 times to take off 24 yards from his gains.

This frosh QB was 15 of 30 for 292 yards and 2 TD’s. His one pick was in the end zone, ending one of FIU’s drives into Maine territory. This guy looked like a frosh. He missed a lot of open receivers. FIU was not an impressive team on offense, and I can’t say it was Maine that made them into what I saw. FIU wouldn’t make the playoffs if they were an FCS team.

Offensively, Maine has a couple of good RB’s. Tristen Kenan is a true freshman from a noted HS program in Baltimore (Dunbar High). He was all state his Jr. and Sr. years gaining 2000 and 1500 yards. They list him at 5’10” 195 lbs, but he looks smaller. He is the real deal. Maine didn’t blow FIU off the line. They do a lot of shifting and go unbalanced. They caught FIU for quick cutbacks. Tristen gained 75 of his 108 yards in the first half, so FIU made halftime adjustments that limited his gains after the break. John Gay, the other back had 11 carries for 81 yards.

Maine’s QB is not dual threat. He does have decent pocket presence and was able to extend plays downfield, but he was sacked 3 times taking the Bears out of drives. Even though Maine averaged 4 YPC their OL again wasn’t dominant. More trickery than smash mouth.

Derek Robertson is a senior QB and a team player. He started 7 games as a sophomore as a fill in for the injured starter. Last year he only appeared in one game as a Jr. He didn’t hit the portal as many do now. Saturday he was 21 of 43 (under 50%) for 213 yards in this game. He had no interceptions but should have had four. Three times the FIU defender dropped INTs and a fourth time he threw into double coverage and the DB didn’t look back for the ball. He was not impressive.

This Maine team reminds me of CAA Delaware when they came to Fargo in 2018, though the Blue Hens were probably a better overall team since they made the FCS playoffs that year. That day we contained their run game and harassed the QB all day. He completed just 11 of 29 passes for 95 yards with 3 sacks and 3 INT’s including a pick six by Jabril Cox. I think Code Green is going to make the Bears one dimensional. Then it will be off to the races to get to their QB. I look for at least 4 sacks.

On offense this will be another good pre-conference game to expand the play book and get the youngsters some experience. I think the Rams will dominate on the line of scrimmage and protect our QB’s.

All in all, I agree with the Sagarin spread of 30 points. The 4th quarter should belong to the Bison reserves off the bench. Go Bison!

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