Despite Addazio’s Praise, Maine Won’t Challenge Eagles

In the final scene of The Wolf of Wall Street, disgraced financial kingpin Jordan Belfort reemerges as a seminar conductor in New Zealand. Standing before an audience eager to learn the sales skills that led him to the top of New York City, Belfort moves from one attendee to the next, commanding them to “Sell me this pen!” Overcome with nerves, they flub the chance to impress the genius salesman, flummoxed by the bizarre task of selling the ordinary pen in his hand.

You would probably have the same difficulty selling the idea that Maine has a chance to upset Boston College in Saturday’s season opener. As a Football Championship Subdivision school, Maine enters the contest at an inherent disadvantage from both a size and talent perspective. Most FCS schools that successfully topple Football Bowl Subdivision teams do so with the aid of big plays, by controlling the clock, or by winning the turnover battle. Explosive plays allow the undersized team to score on one quick play, besting the superior team once instead of several times on a drive.

Maine’s offense in 2014 was the opposite of this, tallying just 4.07 yards per play. The rushing attack really sunk the number, putting up a pitiful 2.97 yards per carry. The main culprits of the struggles return this year, as dual threat quarterback Drew Belcher and Maine’s 2014 leading rusher sophomore Nigel Beckford look to raise their performance following subpar freshman campaigns.

Through the air, Maine was hardly any better. The quarterback tandem of Belcher and junior Dan Collins, who started the first six games in 2014 before suffering a season-ending injury, combined to post under 150 yards per game—104th among FCS teams—and figure to struggle against a BC secondary that head coach Steve Addazio labeled as “more athletic, faster, [and] talented” than last year’s edition.

Controlling the clock also allows FCS schools to minimize the amount of time that an FBS opponent has its offense on the field. This minimizes the number of plays that offense can run, preventing it from asserting its dominance over the FCS defense in long stretches. To control the clock, a team can either have a powerful ground game or a defense that prevents the opposition from stringing together first downs.

Given last season’s offensive performance, Maine doesn’t fall into the first category. So a strong defensive game plan seems to be Maine’s only real hope of keeping the Eagles vaunted rushing attack off the field. Maine does bring several talented defenders to the table, especially end Trevor Bates, who compiled particularly impressive stats in 2014, with 60 tackles, 5.5 sacks, three interceptions, and two forced fumbles. Even Addazio conceded that “they are well coached, well put together, tough, [and] physical.” It would be hard, however, to apply this statement across the board to the entire Maine defense. Despite several individual standouts, the unit was torched to the tune of 413 rushing yards in last year’s game against the Eagles. With BC sure to stick to its ground and pound philosophy, Maine must hope for a massive reversal of fortune on Saturday.

Winning the turnover margin is crucial to an upset bid. An FCS team needs to both avoid them on offense, so as to not give the superior team any easy scoring chances, and create them on defense, getting themselves easy scoring chances. In 2014, turnovers were the one category in which Maine excelled. The team had a turnover margin of plus-10, placing it in the top 20 percent of FCS teams. The defense recovered eight fumbles and picked off 14 passes. Both have the potential to handcuff BC on Saturday. As with any team primarily focused on running the football, BC presents opponents with a high number of chances to force fumbles. With new quarterback Darius Wade under center for BC, Maine’s secondary should look to make a difference in this game. In addition to utilizing its strong front seven, creating short fields with turnovers may be the only chance Maine has of even sniffing victory.

In preparation for this week’s game, Addazio has attempted to keep his team focused on earning the victory. He even appeared to sound complimentary of Maine, saying, “You can play weak FCS opponents. We’re not playing one here. This isn’t a weak FCS opponent.” After running that statement through the basic coach-speak translator, it reemerges as an empty platitude given to avoid the notion that BC does not respect Maine. Like the stammering New Zealanders in The Wolf of Wall Street, even Addazio has a hard time selling the idea of a competitive game.

Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Senior Staff

September 3, 2015