1) First Conference Game – After going 2-2 in out-of-conference play, Richmond’s game against Maine will begin Richmond’s conference schedule. 2-2 in out-of-conference play is not where this team wants to be, and I don’t think Richmond’s record is a fair representation of Richmond’s abilities. If the Spiders caught a few more breaks, Richmond could easily be 3-1 or 4-0. With that being said, the real season starts Saturday. Richmond certainly has the ability to win the CAA, but there are several other strong teams that could win the conference as well. The Spiders saw last year how difficult it can be to get an at-large bid into the postseason, so winning the conference and receiving an automatic bid is the Spiders’ top priority at this point. Maine has shown it will be a contender in the CAA through its first four games, and it’s crucial the Spiders pick up a win on Saturday.
2) Emergence of a running gamee – Coming into the season, many questions surrounded Richmond’s running game and to this point, its hard to gauge how affective Richmond’s running backs will be against CAA defenses. Last week, Jacobi Green and T.J. Moon led the Spiders to 218 total rushing yards against Liberty, 186 more yards than Richmond rushed for in its previous two games. Maine has had a pretty average rushing defense so far, allowing 155 yards per game on the ground. If Richmond can sustain any sort of running threat, Michael Strauss will have less pressure and more time to make plays. Maine will be a good test for Green and the rest of the Spiders’ backs.
3) Strauss v. Maine’s Secondary – The CAA’s most prolific passing offense (288 yards per game) will face the CAA’s second-best pass defense (176 yards per game). Michael Strauss has already proven he can play against good defenses, but Maine has shown it can slow down good quarterbacks. Maine’s defense held Northwestern, who threw for nearly 300 yards against both Syracuse and California, to 122 passing yards last week. Strauss will certainly have his hands full this week, and he and his receivers will have to play well for Richmond to win.
Keys to a Richmond victory:
1) Turnovers/Special Teams – Turnovers are crucial in any football and both Richmond and Maine’s previous games were partially decided by turnovers and special teams plays. Two defensive touchdowns by Northwestern propelled them over Maine last week, 35-21, and Richmond held on to its 30-21 victory over Liberty in part because of Wayne Pettus’ two blocked field goals and his fourth-quarter interception. Richmond has a plus-four turnover differential in its first four games and will need to protect the ball against Maine to come out with a victory.
2) Containing Maine’s receivers – Wide receiver Derric Johnson and tight end Justin Perillo, who was named to the CAA’s pre-season All-Conference team, have been big contributors of the Black Bears’ offense in their first four games. Johnson is averaging seven receptions and 70 yards. Perillo had 81 yards and a touchdown on his eight receptions last week, which was good enough to earn FCS national tight end of the week. Richmond’s secondary will have its hands full with these two pass catchers.
Prediction – 28-24 Richmond
Richmond is opening conference play with a difficult opponent. Maine has looked better than expected in its first four games, which includes a win over FBS opponent Massachusetts and an impressive showing against No. 16 Northwestern. Richmond’s victory against Liberty was not the Spiders’ prettiest performance, but it got the team headed back in the right direction following its two losses. I expect Saturday to be a game that could go either way, but my gut tells me the Spiders will be able to pull out a big win.