Ron Whitcomb had heard some of the talk about the University of Maine and its diminished passing game during the first half of the football season.
The senior quarterback went into Saturday’s Atlantic 10 game against Villanova having averaged only 88 passing yards per contest, the fewest in the conference.
Whitcomb knew the statistics were merely a reflection of the Black Bears’ desire and ability to run the football effectively and control the clock with their run game as part of UMaine’s new spread scheme.
He was pleased to demonstrate the Bears, now ranked No. 19 in Division I-AA, do have the ability to throw the football. He completed 19 of 29 passes for 209 yards – all season highs – and a touchdown in their 20-7 victory over the Wildcats.
“We knew that they were going to come in and do that [try to stop the run],” Whitcomb said. “The first thing that we were going to have to do all week is try to establish the pass, because that was the way we were going to move the ball sometimes, so it became effective and we did a pretty good job of it.”
One of the players who has begun to emerge as a key passing target is sophomore walk-on Manzi Pierre. The 6-foot, 185-pounder made six receptions for 65 yards against Villanova.
“He’s our No. 1 receiver this year,” said UMaine coach Jack Cosgrove.
Pierre sparked the passing game on the outside, making all six catches in the first half. He made three receptions during the Bears’ 18-play, 75-yard drive that consumed nine minutes, 20 seconds and resulted in a Devin McNeill field goal.
Pierre’s catches included a 10-yarder on a third-and-five play, a 10-yarder in a second-and-four situation and a 16-yarder on fourth-and-15.
“On the perimeter, they’re playing really loose, so I can just run anything 8 to 10 yards, just cut it right there and get the ball in my hands and I’ll make moves to see what I can do to get the first down,” Pierre said.
Five of his receptions gave UMaine a first down.
Pierre was happy UMaine was able to show off its ability to throw the ball.
“Now when the other teams look at the tape, they’ll see that we have threats deep, threats short and they’ll know from the first games that we have threats in the run game, so we have a lot of pride now,” he said. “We just have to keep working on that,” he said.
Whitcomb, whose assault on a handful of UMaine career passing records has been slowed considerably because of the new offensive philosophy, seems to have things in the proper perspective.
“It’s never frustrating that can’t – quote, unquote – throw the ball,” Whitcomb said. “If we’re winning, I really don’t care if it’s through the air or on the ground.”
The man at the helm of the UMaine offense also is optimistic the unit has a great deal more potential this season.
“We’re still a work-in-progress on offense,” Whitcomb said. “Every day we’re getting better, whether it’s in practice or on the field. As we continue to clean things up, ride the back of our defense, hopefully we can keep getting better and keep winning games.”