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ORONO – The University of Maine defense has been swallowing up its Atlantic 10 opponents this season.
The Black Bears (5-2, 4-0 A-10) go into Saturday’s noon conference game at Rhode Island ranked No. 1 nationally and third in all of Division I football (behind Michigan and Miami) in rushing defense, allowing only 58.9 yards per game).
UMaine, which has won three straight, has allowed only 15.6 points per game and is 10th in I-AA in total defense (256.7 ypg). The defensive success begins up front with its formidable defensive line.
“People should know about our defensive front, because we have good players there,” said Bears head coach Jack Cosgrove. “The statistics don’t lie.”
With preseason All-America nose tackle Mike DeVito (6-foot-3, 298 pounds) clogging up the middle and fellow senior co-captain Matt King (6-3, 242) slamming one end, the Bears have been tough to move the ball against.
“I know that’s the best front four that we’ve seen thus far this year, including [Division I-A] Marshall,” Hofstra coach Dave Cohen said last Saturday after the Pride were held to 10 points and 106 total yards, including minus-9 yards rushing.
The Bears’ starting front four, which includes two other standout performers in junior tackle Bruno Dorismond (6-4, 291) and junior end Pat McCrossan (6-4, 243), take great pride in their efforts.
“We feel like if we can control the front, we can control the game,” McCrossan said.
“I think up front we have a lot of confidence and, even the defense as a whole, we have a lot of confidence,” DeVito said.
The unit’s collective belief in its ability comes through not only its recent success, but its extensive combined experience.
“You go out there with a swagger,” Dorismond said. “When you have DeVito and Matt King next to you, you know good things are going to happen.”
Even so, Dorismond admitted he is motivated in part by having to play next to DeVito, knowing his performance will be judged by that of his all-conference counterpart.
“You don’t want to look bad compared to DeVito,” he said.
The defense’s No. 1 goal is to keep opponents from running the ball. When they do so, it is easier for the Bears to switch into pass-defense mode.
First-year defensive coordinator Robb Smith’s system has incorporated a consistently strong pass rush that forces quarterbacks either to throw the ball more quickly than they wish, throw on the run, or simply run for their lives.
“I think we’ve created a lot of unrest in the minds of the quarterbacks that we’re playing,” Cosgrove said.
“Teams are trying to run, but I don’t know how committed they are to it, because I think they’re not having success,” he added. “Then they’ve got to throw the football and that helps you.”
UMaine ranks third in the country, averaging 4.1 sacks per contest, and is fifth with 8.3 tackles for a loss per game. The Bears’ 29 sacks rank second in the A-10 behind James Madison (32).
“When we actually do play a full, complete game and not make any mistakes, it’s going to be something to watch,” King said.
King and DeVito each have registered six sacks this season, which leads the Atlantic 10 and is tied for 11th in the national statistics.
“The front four were real tough on us,” said Villanova coach Andy Talley, whose team managed 170 total yards, including minus-39 on the ground. “The big kids up front, they’re tough.”
McCrossan has posted four sacks while Dorismond has been in on 31/2. The Bears have collared the opposing quarterback 21 times in the last three weeks.
“Sacking the quarterback’s the ultimate,” McCrossan said. “It’s fun, but playing with three good players, watching them sometimes is even better than getting my stats.”
That sense of unselfishness seems to exist among the defensive line crew, which also features excellent depth. Tackles Reggie Paramoure and Bryan Grier, along with ends Derek Runnells, Josh Caldwell and Jonathan Pirruccello, also have contributed coming off the bench.
“They’ve got six guys they roll in and out and they do a great job and they play hard,” Hofstra’s Cohen said.
While the Bears’ D-linemen know they have to seek consistency and improvement as they head down the home stretch of the season, they are riding a wave of confidence.
“We’ve been winning and that’s contagious,” Dorismond said. “We don’t want to lose, so every win we work harder.”