The Flames play host to #3 Jacksonville State tonight at 7pm, in front of what will hopefully be a record crowd. It is the first matchup between the two teams since 1982, with the Gamecocks winning the two previous meetings.

Stopping Eli Jenkins.

It’s hard not to mention Jacksonville State’s quarterback in every piece written about their team. The redshirt-senior is as decorated as they come. In 2013, he was named a Freshman All-American. In 2014, he was named to the First Team All-OVC. Last season, he was named the FCS Quarterback of the Year and OVC Player of the Year after finishing with 2,788 passing yards and 1,161 rushing yards.

“I believe he has NFL talent,” Liberty safety Alpha Jalloh said. “He did very well against an SEC opponent, LSU, but I feel like he can be stopped. He’s kinda similar to Lamar Jackson, maybe not as fast as he is, for Louisiville.”

As mentioned previously this week, expect the Flames to use a spy on Jenkins for a good part of the game.

Liberty’s red zone defense against JSU’s red zone offense.

The Flames have been very effective on defense in the red zone this season, holding opponents to scores on less than 70% of their red zone trips which is tops in the Big South and 31st in the country.

“Red zone production, was very pleased with that,” Robert Wimberly said. “We were able to hold (SMU) to 9 points and we had 2 turnovers and a field goal miss. That’s always exciting to know, when they do get down to the red zone, our guys, so far this year, has shown the ability to bow up, that’s our theme for this season.”

The Gamecocks are one of the better offenses in the FCS, led by Jenkins and running back Roc Thomas. Stopping them in the red zone will be a challenge.

Jacksonville State the best team to ever play at Williams Stadium?

A case could be made for it. The Gamecocks will be the highest ranked team to ever play at Williams Stadium. JSU is currently ranked #3. The Flames faced #3 Appalachian State in the regular season finale in Lynchburg in 1999. For the first time ever, Liberty will host a team which played in the previous year’s FCS national championship game. JSU is on a 23 game regular season winning streak against non-FBS opponents. You have to go all the way back to the 2013 season for the last time they lost a regular season FCS game, and they lost that game to the #2 ranked FCS team in the country at the time. They haven’t lost a regular season non-conference FCS game since 2011. Under 3rd-year head coach John Grass, Jacksonville State’s only regular season losses have come against Michigan State, Auburn, and LSU.

Alpha Jalloh

Alpha Jalloh

We must protect this house.

The Flames are currently riding a 6 game home win streak which includes wins over nationally ranked Montana and Coastal Carolina. The Flames look to extend that streak to 7 against Jacksonville State. Liberty is 50-10 at Williams Stadium since the start of the 2006 season. Everyone we talked to this week, was hype when asked about the environment they expect against the Gamecocks.

Nick Newman – “I expect all of our fans to come out and support us like they always do. We’re all looking forward to it. The players, we get so excited when our fans come out. So, we hope they all come out, rain or shine, really give us a lot of energy. We go out and try to play for them as well when they show up.”

Alpha Jalloh – “We don’t want anybody to come in our house and disrespect us. This is our home. We appreciate our fans. We appreciate our fans being there supporting us, staying there for the whole entire game. When a top 10 opponent comes here, we just want to show that we came with you guys and we are one of the best teams in the country. That’s what we want to utilize and that’s what we want to show to the world and prove that to the other opponent. You’re not going to come into Williams Stadium and just think you’re going to run over this Christian school. No, we’re going to actually fight and do our best and show our talent.”

Turner Gill – “Our student body is the best in the country, as far as I’m concerned, FBS, FCS, doesn’t matter what it is.”

Indecisiveness at Quarterback and a re-shuffled O-Line = blowout this week?

I’ve heard from multiple people this week saying they’re fearful the margin of this game will be wide, and the Flames may even get blown out. Most of this hysteria is due to “indecisiveness” at quarterback and a re-shuffled offensive line. Calm down, peeps.

In Gill’s 4 plus years at Liberty, the Flames have lost 5 games at Williams Stadium by an average margin of 4.2 points. 3 of these games have been decided by 3 points or less, and another one was decided in double overtime. We have a large sample size proving that Gill-led Liberty teams play very well at home. There’s no reason to believe this game will be any different. Yes, Jacksonville State is very good. Yes, the quarterback position and offensive line are question marks. No, there’s no reason to expect a blowout.

One other notable quote.

Nick Newman on the team’s confidence – “That SMU game just showed us we can play with anyone. It didn’t really hinder our confidence or anything like that. If anything, it made us more confident.”

My prediction:

Liberty 27, Jacksonville State 24