Liberty hosts Gardner-Webb on Saturday at 3:30 as the Flames are looking to beat the Runnin’ Bulldogs for the 5th straight time at Williams Stadium.

“They have improved.”

Coach Gill was very definitive and to the point when discussing Gardner-Webb by saying they have improved this season. He’s right. The Runnin’ Bulldogs find themselves at or near the top of the Big South’s statistical rankings in several team and individual categories. They lead the conference in scoring defense, first downs rushing, fewest penalties, kickoff coverage, red zone offense, field goals, extra points, average yards per punt, fumble returns, punt return yards, and fumble return touchdowns.

Quarterback Tyrell Maxwell leads the conference in total offense, total offense plays, total offense yards, and passing yards per completion. Running back Khalil Lewis leads the league in rush attempts, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns. Maxwell is right behind Lewis in rushing yards, ranking 2nd in the Big South. Lewis leads the country in rushing touchdowns and ranks 4th nationally in rushing yards.

Gill spoke very highly of both Maxwell and Lewis. “(Lewis is) a solid running back, powerful guy, has good speed, good vision, runs hard. He’ll break some tackles. They really have those 2 guys (Maxwell and Lewis) that can run the ball. It makes them create a balanced attack. They’ve definitely gotten better as a football team, and it’s going to be an interesting game. I know our guys will be ready to play their best game. We have to play our best football game (to win).”

Flames need to improve in stopping opponent’s explosive plays.

All season Liberty’s defense has played fairly well, but they have the propensity to allow the big play. Coach Gill said this week that limiting opponent’s big plays is the one area that the team needs to make the most improvement in. The Flames’ try to limit its opponents to an explosive play, which is defined as a play 20 yards or more, on 5% of its total plays. Against Kennesaw State, Liberty allowed the Owls to have an explosive play on 8.57% of their plays. Against Monmouth, the Hawks had an explosive play nearly 12% of their plays. Gardner-Webb’s Maxwell and Lewis have big play ability, and Liberty must begin to show improvement in stopping these big plays.

maconLiberty wants to maintain a balanced attack on offense.

For the first time in school history, the Flames rushed and passed for 300 or more yards in the same game last week against Monmouth. Liberty rolled up 681 total offensive yards, just 11 yards short of matching the Flames’ single-game program record of 692 total offensive yards against Presbyterian in 2012. It was Liberty’s fourth time finishing with 600 or more total offensive yards in a game in five seasons under head coach Turner Gill. It was just the 2nd time this year and 5th time in 5 seasons under head coach Turner Gill Liberty rushed for 300 or more yards in a game.

In Liberty’s first 5 games this season, the Flames rushed for 622 yards and 8 touchdowns. In the last 2 games, Liberty has rushed for 534 yards and 6 touchdowns. The offense has become very explosive since the bye week, and they hope to maintain this balanced attack on offense against the Runnin’ Bulldogs.

Buckshot exceeding expectations early.

We have known about Buckshot’s potential since he committed to the Flames a year ago. We knew he was coming into the program expecting to compete for playing time immediately. We heard about his big arm. But then Stephon Masha was named the starter and captain at the end of spring practice. So, Calvert’s hype was squelched some during the off-season. Over the past several weeks, he has exceeded all expectations anyone could have had on him as a true freshman.

calvertAsked this week if Calvert’s exceeded expectations to this point, Gill said he has. “I would say yes in the amount of games, 3 games he’s started. Obviously, we always knew he had talent, but talent also has to be able to execute it when you get in a ball game. I think the way he has been able to take care of the ball for the most part, being able to lead our team, being able to put points on the board, being able to have our players be better than what they have been. He’s done all the things we’ve asked him to do, and he’s done it in a short period of time.”

Flames got complacent for 3 consecutive series against Monmouth.

If you look at the drive chart from last week’s game against Monmouth, 3 consecutive Liberty drives and 3 consecutive Monmouth drives jump off the page. Interesting thing is both sets of drives occurred at the same time late in the 3rd quarter. For 3 straight drives, Liberty’s offense suddenly crashed to a halt. During the same time, Monmouth’s offense finally found success.

“I think the young men got complacent,” defensive coordinator Robert Wimberly said. “When you get complacent against a well-coached team like Monmouth, you can get exposed. To come out in the 3rd quarter, and get a little lackadaisical, on homecoming, to lose focus, I think we saw the consequences of that. We have to stay locked in for a full 60 minutes, and that’s the challenge for our young men this week. We’ve got to stay locked in to make sure that we start from the beginning of the game to the end of the game.”

Notable quote.

Joe Dailey on true freshman receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden – “He’s got phenomenal presence. He’s a very, very well built young man. He has a unique presence in the sense that his personality is unique. The guys really enjoy being around him. He’s really a big kid is what we say. He’s full of energy, he has a lot of passion, he loves the game of football. He’s very, very talented in the sense that he has sure hands. Any ball thrown at him, near him, or in his vicinity, he’s probably going to come down with it. That’s exciting to see that you have a young guy who’s sure-handed at an early age. He plays only so many number of plays a game, and he’s usually 2, 3, 4 catches a week.”

My prediction:

Liberty 38, Gardner-Webb 17