Scouting the Enemy: Maine Black Bears
2007 Record: 4-7
Head Coach: Jack Cosgrove (16th season, 80-90 at Maine)
Iowa opens the 2008 season on Saturday when they will host Coach Kirk Ferentz’s former team. The Maine Black Bears from NCAA’s FCS Division will meet the Hawkeyes for the first time in school history on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. So with kick-off less than five days away it’s time to scout the enemy.
Kirk Ferentz’s first head coaching job in his career came at Maine where he lead the Black Bears from 1990 to 1992. After the 1992 season, Ferentz left Maine to become the offensive line coach for the Cleveland Browns. Ferentz’s offensive coordinator Jack Cosgrove was picked to take over as head coach and he has been leading the Black Bears ever since. Maine comes into this season after posting a disappointing 4-7 record last year. The Bears will take on a Division 1 team on the road for the second straight year after a less than impressive 38-0 loss at UCONN last season. Maine started the 2007 season 1-6 but did finish strong winning 3 of their last 4 games in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Maine returns some key skill players from an offensive unit that struggled to put points on the board most of last season. The Black Bears’ managed to average only 16.9 points per game (11th out of 12 CAA teams) last year and scored over 24 points only once in a 35-0 home win over Rhode Island. Maine’s biggest weapon on offense this season will be running back Jhamal Fluellen. The senior transfer from Syracuse rushed for over 1,000 yards last season for the Bears and was named pre-season all-conference this year. The offensive line in front of Fluellen is a bit of a question mark for Maine with a lot of new faces on the two-deeps. The only returning starter up front is Ryan Canary who was a 2nd team all-conference selection last year. Quarterbacks Adam Farkes and Michael Brusko both started games for the Black Bears last year and both are returning. Farkes started the first 6 games in 2007 before a shoulder injury ended his season, and he should be under center to start the game for Maine on Saturday. However, don’t be surprised if Iowa sees Brusko on the field at some point as well. Whoever is taking the snaps, he will have a very experienced receiving corp to throw to. Landis Williams was Maine’s leading receiver last year, and he returns as their biggest weapon in the passing game this season. The Black Bears ran a lot of sets out of the shotgun last year and did show some spread formations with 3-wide and even 4-wide sets.
Maine brings a very aggressive and unpredictable defense to the field on Saturday. Last season the Black Bears held opponents to 24.5 points per game. Maine has 8 starters returning from last year’s defense that peaked late in the season. The strength of their defense is definitely in a solid and experienced defensive backs unit. The main guy upfront on defense is defensive end Jevon Belcher who was named pre-season all-american and conference player of the year on defense. The Black Bears like to attack with blitzes and move Belcher around to keep the offensive line guessing and on their toes. The Hawkeye offense will see all kinds of different schemes being thrown at them against Maine.
Although Maine is stepping up a division on Saturday and struggled through a disappointing 4-7 season last year, the Hawkeyes will not want to take them lightly. Historically the Black Bears have been a tough game for some Division 1 opponents. Maine defeated Ole Miss 9-7 in 2004 and was within a touchdown at Nebraska during the 4th quarter the next season in 2005. Of course the Bears have been shutout in their last two trips to Division 1 stadiums including a 22-0 loss at Boston College in 2006.