Here are a few notables from today’s press conference with Turner Gill, Robert Wimberly, and Joe Dailey as they look back at the SMU game and look ahead to the big showdown this week against #3 Jacksonville State:

1. The quarterback position will continue to be one that gets a lot of attention.

For everything Coach Gill said about the quarterback battle, click here. Offensive Coordinator Joe Dailey was also asked numerous questions about the quarterback battle. Here’s a little bit of his dialogue:

On not selecting a starter until after a full week of practice:
“In order to be quarterback at the highest level, you got to be efficient. The only way you can be efficient is when you’re consistent. You got to understand the timing, the rhythm, the thought process behind each play. In practice, you’re going to get anywhere between 100-120 reps, each day, mentally and physically. In the game you only get about 77-85. Being able to reproduce the thoughts needed on game day throughout the week, who does that most consistently, will have an opportunity to be the starter.”

On if he’s disappointed there’s a quarterback battle going on midway through the season:
“You always want to go in there with the thought process that there’s one guy and a quality backup. The fortunate part for us, is we’ve been preparing for a situation, whatever it may be, whether there’s an injury, or we’re not getting what we want performance-wise from a guy. So, we’ve put ourselves in, we feel like, a good situation where we have two guys that have played a bunch of football in 3 football games. With that being said, there’s comfort to that. Do you want a guy to be solidified? Obviously. We feel like we’ve got two really good quarterbacks, guys that have done pretty good, relatively speaking, playing against 2 really good FBS opponents.” 

2. The Flames have completely revamped their offensive line.

line isaacsonPart of it is due to Michael Hederman’s season-ending injury (see below), but Liberty’s offensive line depth chart for Jacksonville State is completely different than it has been all season. Tanner Hartman returns as the starting left tackle after missing the SMU game. True freshman Ethan Crawford returns to the starting lineup, but this time he’s switched from right guard to left guard to replace Henderman. Lucas Holder had started the first 3 games of the season at either guard spot, but he is now sliding to center. Dontae Duff, who started the first 3 games at center, is sliding to right guard. Sam Isaacson, who started at right tackle against Virginia Tech and SMU, gets the nod at right tackle again.

“Every single game, the offensive line, there’s been a change. We haven’t had the same 5 people work together in one ball game at this point in time,” Gill said. “We looked at it pretty hard Sunday, looking and seeing where we’re at. Then health-wise, losing Henderman, that kind of triggered some things there right away. To say, what’s our best 5? What’s our best 5 to be as successful as possible. Even though we’re making another change, but we want to try this out. We think this, after talking about it with Coach Wag, Coach Dailey, this is the route we need to go. We think this is going to be the best way for us to move forward. Not saying it’s going to be set in stone. We’ll keep on trying things to make sure we’ll continue to improve offensively.”

3. The praise for Eli Jenkins was flowing freely.

Jacksonville State’s All-American quarterback can put some numbers. He is rushing for 98 yards per game while throwing for nearly 250 yards per game during the Gamecocks first 3 games.

“Eli is going to be one of the top offensive players in the country,” Gill said. “He can make all the throws.”

wimberlyWimberly continued Jenkins’ praise. “They have a great quarterback in Jenkins. He’s a phenomenal athlete. We got by last week with not facing a dual-threat quarterback, but the man upstairs didn’t shine on us this week. Eli Jenkins is a special player from Birmingham, Alabama. They do a great job with him. He has the ability to hurt you with his arm, hurt you with the run game scheme, and then, top it up, he can scramble for a first down. So, he’s really a 3-dimensional athlete, in my opinion. So, we’re working hard to put together a game plan that will allow us to try to contain this special athlete.”

I followed that up by asking Wimberly if he planned on using a spy on Jenkins. There was a long, 4 second pause. “You got to have a game plan when you face a special quarterback like Eli Jenkins. We’ve got some things up our sleeve. Every defense would do that against Eli Jenkins. So, I’m not going to make it seem like we’re going to try and reinvent the wheel. I just believe that I got to get my guys to execute at a high level… I feel real confident that our d-line has real good football IQ, they know their gaps, even when we do different stunts and spies. So, yeah all of that is going to be a part of it. So, I’m giving my secret away a little bit.”

4. SMU’s field goal block unit completely blew up Liberty’s protection when Probert’s field goal was blocked.

True freshman kicker Alex Probert had his lone field goal attempt at SMU blocked. It was Probert’s first miss of his young career, as he connected on both of his field goals against Jacksonville, including a long of 44.

Gill says it wasn’t anything to do with the kick, the kick was fine, but the protection broke down. “They just ran over Aharown Campbell, or excuse me, Duff. 3 guys just knocked him over, he had no chance. They were in the backfield 4 yards. So, it wasn’t a low kick. It was just a poor protection by our front line.”

5. The big message to the defense this week is to concentrate on execution.

Coach Wimberly mentioned the word execution countless times during his 12 minute Q&A session with the media. He said most of the long plays the team allowed to SMU was due to a lack of execution, particularly in the run game.

“I kind of knew we were going to be a little light against the run (against SMU). Our game plan was to stop Sutton. I thought we did a good job with that. That was the #1 thing for us, but in the run game it kind of hurt us. We didn’t get a couple of fits that we really needed. When you watch the film, all positions played a part in the 4 explosive runs that we had. 2 came from the safety position, 1 came from the corner, and 1 came from our d-line position. So, at the end of the day, we still must improve on that, and we will get that corrected.”

6. One more point on the quarterback, addressing Masha and his running opportunities.

Stephon Masha is a dynamic athlete. There’s no disputing that fact. He has shown that in his playing time on the field during his first couple of seasons. However, this season, he only has 25 rushing yards through the first 3 games. It’s been a strategic decision.

“You don’t want to call too many plays in which you expose your quarterback to shots,” Dailey said. “We’ve been really good about that in years past, during our time here, not really exposing the quarterback. The quarterback run game that we’ve been able to execute while here this season has been things where everyone has a hat for hat, and he’s able to be in a 1-on-1 situation. Talk about as a ball carrier, whether it’s a quarterback, running back, wide out, tight end, fullback, at some point you have to make one miss, sooner or later. So, we like to call plays in which everyone’s accounted for. If you’ve got to make someone miss, it’s further down the line.”

7. Injury report.

Liberty’s starting left guard Michael Henderman is out for the season due to a back injury.

Cornerback Malik Matthews and tight end Will Johnson are out this week.

Cornerback Jeremy Peters is probable. Cornerback Chris Turner and running back Todd Macon are both questionable with upper body injuries.