Week 9: October 28th @ Gardner-Webb
Head Coach: Carroll McCray
2016 Record: 5-6
Gardner-Webb has given Liberty quite a bit of trouble the past two seasons. In 2015, we saw the Flames painfully fall by double digits to the Runnin’ Bulldogs and it took a blocked field goal in overtime for Liberty to avoid the upset last year. With the coming FBS move, this is a developing theme that the Flames will look to put to sleep. But before this, they will have to get through Gardner-Webb’s 19 returning starters and their plans to sit atop the Big South Conference.
Just like the rest of the Big South, Gardner-Webb brings back an experienced QB. Tyrell Maxwell comes in with a number of preseason honors, including offensive player of the year. This is no surprise considering the year Maxwell is coming off of. The dual threat QB threw for 1,657 yards and 9 touchdowns last year. Tack on a team high 965 rushing yards with 8 more touchdowns and that earned him 2016 OPOY. The backfield will look a little different for the Runnin’ Bulldogs though as they lost the best rusher in the Big South this offseason. RB Khalil Lewis was dismissed from the team due to multiple violations of team rules. Lewis accounted for 955 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns last season. This clearly leaves a huge hole at the RB position that Sophomore Jaylin Cagle hopes to fill. Others who will take on more carries include Jonathan Blackmon and Elijah Perry. The WR position is one of the weakest for Gardner-Webb’s offense. Their leading receiver last year was freshman Adonus Lee who had just 280 yards and 2 touchdowns. TE Mike Estes was the leading receiver with 494 yards and 2 touchdowns. With Estes now graduated, they will have to look to younger, less experienced options for Maxwell to throw to.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs usually bring a good defense to the table. Last year they limited Liberty to 2.18 yards a carry and had 5 sacks on QB Buckshot Calvert. Their D-line is relatively young and mostly intact from last season. They did lose a pair of LBs in Chad Geter and Aaron Cook though, who were two of the best tacklers on the team. Luckily they have Corey Horne and Jeffery Pegues in line to replace them. Pegues had 4 sacks last year, 2.5 of those coming against the Flames. As for the secondary, Gardner-Webb lost a major asset in Jaylan Foster who transferred to South Carolina. Foster was the Big South Freshman of the Year last year with 5 interceptions, which lead the team. Foster’s move damages this defense. They will look to Josh Carter, Triston Dozier, and a handful of redshirt freshman to cover opposing wideouts.
The last time the Flames played in Boling Springs, there was an obvious disconnect within the team. Chances are, that won’t be the case this time.
Without RB Khalil Lewis, Gardner-Webb will need someone to step up at the RB position.
Runnin’ Bulldogs haven’t lost a game when QB Tyrell Maxwell rushes for over 150 yards. We’ve seen Liberty have ups and downs with running QBs. Can they keep him contained?
Players to Watch
QB Tyrell Maxwell-Maxwell is poised to be one of the best offensive players in the Big South this season.
DE P.J. Fuimaono-Fuimaono led the team in sacks last season.
Kickoff @ Gardner-Webb