In the past two games, University of Maine quarterback Chris Ferguson completed just 53 percent of his passes while throwing two touchdowns – and five interceptions. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

ORONO — When the University of Maine’s offense is right, it is a fine balance of running and passing.

The Black Bears have always had the identity of a hard-running, physical team. But when they can use their running to set up the pass, their offense purrs.

Maine accomplished that in the season-opening 42-14 win over Sacred Heart: 151 rushing yards, 431 passing yards.

Since then, however, Maine has struggled to find that balance. In losses to Georgia Southern and Towson, Maine was pass heavy, running the ball just 40 times while passing 96 times. In last week’s 35-21 win over Colgate, Maine rushed for 152 yards but threw for only 165, with Chris Ferguson completing just eight passes.

If Maine (2-2) is going to remain in contention for the Colonial Athletic Association championship, it has to find balance Saturday at Villanova (4-0). The Wildcats have the CAA’s third-best defense, allowing just 346 yards per game. On offense, Villanova averages 42.3 points – tops in the league.

The Black Bears are going to have to take better care. After turning the ball over just twice in the first two games, Ferguson has thrown five interceptions in the last two games – four in the 45-23 loss to Towson. Villanova has five interceptions and a fumble recovery in its four games.

“Turnovers are always a big thing,” said Maine Coach Nick Charlton. “They’ve been huge so far. Chris has to play better. I have to coach better. We’re doing some really good things in the passing game, but we have got to clean up the turnover aspect of it.”

After completing 60.5 percent of his passes for 609 yards and five touchdowns in the first two games, Ferguson completed just 53 percent of his passes for 566 yards and two touchdowns in the last two.

“We ran all over the place last week,” said Ferguson, in his third year as Maine’s starting quarterback. “I’ve got to get my completion (rate) better so we can have that balance. I’ve got to take care of that, make sure we take care of those opportunities and have a good base on both sides.”

Villanova Coach Mark Ferrante figures Maine will attack his team through the air – “Ferguson will try to distribute the ball well,” he said – and that’s OK with the Wildcats.

“We’re about stopping the run, making a team one-dimensional,” said Ferrante. “We focus on defending the run … If we can make them one-dimensional, hopefully we can pick off a couple of passes and get some turnovers. That’s what we try to do.”

Villanova has a strong pass rush, with 10 sacks. That’s why it’s important for Maine to run the ball effectively. If the Black Bears can do that, Ferguson can fake a handoff before dropping back to pass and slow the pass rush down.

Andrew Dresner, Maine’s offensive coordinator, said getting the passing game back in rhythm was a top emphasis this week in practice.

“I told Chris that a quarterback’s best friend is when we can run the ball like that,” said Dresner. “He’s got to feel confident in stepping up in the pocket and being able to deliver some of the tough passes, knowing that we’ve been running the ball really well and they’re going to bite on some of the play-action stuff.

“Just use the run game to help us throw the ball.”

Joe Fitzpatrick, the North Yarmouth native and Cheverus High grad, gained 102 yards last week to go over 1,000 yards in his Maine career. He knows the importance of getting the running game going again.

“I’ve always thought the hardest thing for a defense to handle is a balanced offense,” he said. “If you get the running game going downhill, that’s only going to help the receivers get a little more separation.”

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