Last year we never really got a grasp on who this Gardner-Webb team really is. Their rollercoaster of a season began with a hot start that would propel them to a top 25 ranking. They would then lose to Coastal Carolina and Liberty, 42-7 and 24-0 respectively, before hitting a season low by losing to VMI 27-9. The Runnin’ Bulldogs would turn things around once more with wins over Charleston Southern and Presbyterian before closing out the 2014 season.
In their meeting with Liberty, Gardner-Webb was dominated in the 24-0 loss. They were only able to record 30 rushing yards in the game.
Head coach, Carroll McCray, hasn’t lost any key offensive players from last year’s campaign. With a talented and experienced group to work with, the Runnin’ Bulldog offense could break out in 2014.
Lucas Beatty, who came up just three yards short of the 2,500 yard mark last year, showed flashes of promise in 2013, but was overall very inconsistent, throwing for 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. With that said, he will have one of the most dangerous weapons in the Big South to throw to in Kenny Cook. Cook racked up 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns last year.
Juanne Blount will be leading things up on the ground for Gardner-Webb. Blount joined only CSU’s Christian Reyes and Coastal’s Lorenzo Taliaferro in last year’s 1,000 yards rushing club after racking up 1,040 yards on the ground. Blount is going to need some more help this year though, as the second leading rusher only recorded 269 yards in last year’s campaign.
The Runnin’ Bulldog defense won’t be quite the same force that allowed the fewest yards per game in the Big South last year, but they should still show to be a very respectable unit.
They will be led by a duo of linebackers, Tanner Burch (107 tackles) and Chad Geter (82 tackles, 9 tackles for loss), both preseason all Big South teamers. Unfortunately for Gardner-Webb, they will not be returning Preston Parmasa and Shaquille Riddick at defensive end. The duo combined for 20 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks last season. Riddick transferred to West Virginia in an effort to be closer to home.
Much like what Liberty is looking at for this season, Gardner-Webb will go from a team carried by their defense in 2013, to a team who’s offense will be needed to take command in 2014. The Runnin’ Bulldogs definitely have the pieces to be really good this year, but the depth needed to be at the top of the Big South just isn’t there. A lot will depend on which Lucas Beatty shows up.
Gardner-Webb also has a lot of their eggs in just a few baskets. They don’t give the ball to very many guys, so just one or two injuries could be devastating. They will definitely need a few more major contributors if they expect to contend at the top this year.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs will get Presbyterian and Coastal at home, but will take on Liberty, CSU, and Monmouth on the road.