Black Bears in range

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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Brian Tedder/Collegian

Massachusetts quarterback Liam Coen joked with reporters that his recent left knee injury would limit his “mobility” this weekend against Maine.

While the injury is no laughing matter to UMass coach Don Brown, the Minutemen expect their star signal-caller to be on the field for this Saturday’s matchup with the Black Bears in Orono, Maine.

“It feels really good, and I’ll definitely be out there on Saturday,” said Coen, referring to his left knee.

A victory for UMass (3-0, 1-0 Colonial Athletic Association) would be its sixth-straight over the Black Bears (1-2, 0-1 CAA) and would mark its first 4-0 start since 1986. Maine enters the game at Alfond Stadium winless against the Minutemen since 2001 and with a two-game skid.

Last season’s meeting ended in heartbreak for the Black Bears, as they failed to convert an extra point attempt which would have tied the game with less than two minutes remaining. UMass clinched the Atlantic 10 North Division championship with the 10-9 victory.

Maine dropped a tough decision last weekend, losing in overtime, 24-17, to conference foe Villanova. A week earlier the Black Bears were demolished, 38-0, by Connecticut – a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent.

Meanwhile, the Minutemen keep winning despite being unable to put it all together for 60 minutes. UMass has overcome a near second-half collapse, turnover issues and penalties en route to its 3-0 start.

Brown’s comment following last week’s win over Towson is a microcosm of the 2007 season.

“It wasn’t artistic. Many of our wins aren’t, but we’ll take it,” he said.

For the Minutemen to take this weekend’s game, they’ll have to focus a majority of their attention on Maine running back Jhamal Fluellen.

In three games, the 5-foot-9 junior accumulated 316 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 59 carries – for a 5.4 yard average. Last week against the Wildcats, Fluellen rushed for a career-high 167 yards and two scores.

“It starts with Fluellen,” Brown said. “If we don’t do a good job with Fluellen, we’ll have a long day. We need to take care of him first.”

If the Minuteman defense limits the star tailback, the Black Bears could be in for a long afternoon – as they lack a strong aerial attack with quarterback Adam Farkes.

Maine has just 218 passing yards after three games (72.7 per game) and has yet to throw a touchdown pass. Farkes and Michael Brusko – who have split the quarterbacking duties – have been intercepted three times, while completing 52.1 percent of their passes. The Black Bears have 10 first downs through the air, compared to 28 on the ground.

The team’s leading receiver, Manzi Pierre, has just 67 yards. Fluellen leads the team in receptions with 11, but those catches have only gone for 26 yards.

Both quarterbacks, unlike Coen, bring a running dimension to the offense. Brusko had 109 rushing yards in the season-opening victory over Monmouth, while Farkes has 51 yards on 14 rushes. It’s something the UMass coaching staff is mindful of.

“Farkes is a good athlete,” Brown said. “That’s who they’re going to play at quarterback [on Saturday] and he’s shown some good moments. He likes to move around in the pocket.”

Despite Fluellen’s strong start, the Black Bears are averaging 12.7 points per game – compared to the 37 points per game the Minutemen have put up. Maine has struggled offensively after the first quarter, as more than half (21) of its 38 points have come within the first 15 minutes.

Defensively, the Black Bears have struggled to start the 2007 season – allowing 25.7 points per game. Their struggles against the run have been particularly surprising, considering they led the CAA in rushing defense last year – having only allowed 63.9 yards per game. This season, opponents have more than doubled that average (128.7). Last week, Villanova running back Matt Dicken ended Maine’s 12-game streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher.

The 2:30 p.m. kickoff will mark the 54th meeting between the two schools. UMass leads the all-time series, 39-13-1. The Minutemen are 17-9 against the Black Bears at Alfond Stadium. Maine coach Jack Cosgrove is in his 15th season at the helm, sporting a 5-9 record against the Maroon and White. Its last victory (37-7) against UMass came on Nov. 10, 2001 – a season in which Cosgrove won A-10 Coach of the Year.

Game Notes:

Maine’s offensive coordinator Kevin Bourgoin graduated from UMass in 1996, and played four seasons for the Minutemen as a wide receiver