In their first game of the 2020 season, the Liberty Flames will travel to Bowling Green to take on Western Kentucky.
WKU is coming off a 35-21 loss to Louisville. The Hilltoppers went 9-4 in 2019 en route to a last-second field goal victory over Western Michigan in the First Responder Bowl.
After opening 2019 with losses against Central Arkansas and Louisville, the Hilltoppers reeled off a three-game winning streak against UAB, Army and Charlotte. After losses against Marshall and Lane Kiffin’s FAU, the Hilltoppers won out: including a 45-19 drubbing of Arkansas and a 28-10 victory over Southern Miss, another team on Liberty’s 2020 slate. The scores of Western Kentucky’s scores tell a story beyond wins.
20-14 over UAB. 20-3 over Old Dominion. 17-8 over Army, who runs the confusing wishbone offense to near-perfection. 30-14 over Charlotte, and strong defensive showings against Arkansas and Southern Miss. In six of their wins, the Hilltoppers gave up less than 20 points; and in four of those wins, no more than 14.
Here’s another scary fact: the Hilltoppers return nearly every player on defense, save two DB’s, one linebacker, and one lineman who saw considerable playing time. Add graduate transfer linebacker Will Ignot from Tennessee, and the Hilltoppers have a 2020 defense poised to hold several teams to under two touchdowns in 2020.
I’m surprised that WKU surrendered as many points as they did against Louisville, given the experience and prior success of the unit. It’s too early to tell if the Hilltoppers’ poor defensive showing against Louisville was a fluke, and the Liberty game will be a telling game for WKU. While you can expect Liberty to put up some points, don’t count on the Flames will lighting up the scoreboard.
Tyyrrell Pigrome will start under center for WKU against Liberty. Last week against Louisville, Pigrome completed 10 of 23 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown. Western Kentucky also returns junior wideout Jahcour Peterson, who finished second on the team in receiving in 2019 with 804 yards. Peterson could have a 1,000 yard season, provided that WKU’s quarterback play is consistent. He led the team in receptions (five) and receiving yards (67) last week.
The Hilltoppers also return Gaej Walker, who rushed for 1,208 yards in 2019. Aside from Pigrome and Peterson, Western Kentucky will largely rely on role players from 2019’s squad to step into starting positions and produce. TE Joshua Simon, a rising sophomore tight end, gives Duncan a big 6’5, 235-pound target over in the middle of the field. Pigrome is a dual-threat QB who can extend plays, and he led the team in rushing against Louisville with 68 yards on the ground.
Liberty’s defense can contain the Hilltoppers, but Liberty will have to score at least three touchdowns in addition to a field goal or two if they hope to escape Western Kentucky with a win.
The Flames could very well win this game, but it will be a difficult test. While the Hilltoppers had a tough week against Louisville in their first game, I think Western Kentucky’s defense holds the Flames to no more than three touchdowns to secure the win.
Final score: Western Kentucky 24, Liberty 17.