Prior to the start of the 2011 football season, people asked how I thought the University of Maine would fare.
Even with numerous veterans returning on both sides of the ball, I told them I didn’t envision the Black Bears getting more than four wins this fall.
Five games into the season, UMaine is 4-1 and tied for first place in the Colonial Athletic Association at 2-0.
The 2010 Black Bears demonstrated a propensity for undisciplined penalties and turnovers, both of which will humble even the most talent-laden teams in the tough CAA.
This team has shown maturity and poise in significantly reducing those two costly flaws, but that isn’t what is most impressive about the UMaine team to date.
My incorrect early evaluation of the Bears also was based on a severe underestimation of the team’s playmaking capabilities on offense.
Senior quarterback Warren Smith has efficiently directed the offense, completing most of the routine throws required to keep the chains moving, but also putting the ball on target in key third-down situations.
Senior tailback Pushaun Brown has developed into a consistently productive runner behind a tight-knit offensive line that continues to improve.
However, the “X” factor has been the UMaine receiver corps.
Junior Maurice McDonald has come into his own now that he occupies a spot in the starting lineup, making a team-high 25 receptions for 211 yards and three touchdowns.
Sophomore Justin Perillo (23-263-2) has become a dominating force at tight end as a good blocker and as a sure-handed receiver.
Senior slot receiver Derek Session (16-195-1) provides a veteran presence and is an outstanding blocker in addition to his ball-catching skills.
Brown (6-77) also is a threat coming out of the backfield, while redshirt freshmen Damarr Aultman (4-56-1) and Arthur Williams (4-64-0) have begun to show promise as they fill spots vacated by injured teammates.
Their efforts will continue to be magnified as UMaine deals with season-ending knee injuries to Derek Buttles (10-193-1) and Derrick Johnson (13-112-0) and continued absence of senior tight end Jeff Falvey, who is trying to come back from offseason knee surgery.
And don’t forget sophomore Carlton Charles of Windham, a converted defensive lineman who has made a couple of catches from his fullback spot.
Kudos also are warranted for the coaching staff, offensive coordinator Kevin Bourgoin in particular. The coaches have designed a scheme built around plays that put the Bears in position to make opponents respect both the run and pass, but also allows them to maximize the strengths of the personnel on the field.
UMaine should continue to improve and diversify its offensive attack. And if the Bears can avoid injuries, they should be able to complement a gritty defense with enough points to keep winning.