abnargw#15 Liberty (3-2) and Gardner-Webb (1-3) open conference play in Boiling Springs Saturday night. Kickoff is scheduled for 7pm.

Why Gardner-Webb can win this game

The Runnin’ Bulldogs have a very stout defense that has only allowed 20 or more points twice this season. They rank 3rd in the country in 3rd down defense as their opponents only convert on 24% of their 3rd down opportunities. GWU ranks 5th in the country in team tackles for loss averaging nearly 9 per game. It’s not just one guy who’s getting into the opposing team’s backfield as 6 Gardner-Webb defenders have 4 or more tackles for loss highlighted by the Big South’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year O.J. Mau.

While their offense doesn’t put up many points, the Runnin’ Bulldogs are perfect in their red zone opportunities so far this season, scoring all 5 trips inside their opponents’ 20 yard line.

The Flames have struggled in recent games against teams with running quarterbacks. GWU is led by Tyrell Maxwell who likes to run. He leads the team in rushing at 72.7 yards per game.

Why Liberty can win this game

The Flames have dominated the Runnin’ Bulldogs in recent years, having won 8 straight including 2 straight shutouts. In Liberty’s last 2 trips to Boiling Springs, the Flames have beaten Gardner-Webb by a combined score of 59-3.

GWU’s offense is historically shoddy. Dating back to last season, the Runnin’ Bulldogs are averaging 11 points per game in their last 9 games. They have a high mark this season of 23. Their 12.3 points per game average this season ranks #118 out of 123 FCS teams. Gardner-Webb is dead last in the country in 3rd down conversions, converting just 18.8% of their 3rd downs. Not to mention the Flames have shut them out in the teams’ last 2 meetings.

Liberty’s biggest weakness so far this season, has been the secondary. Well, that shouldn’t be much of an issue this week as Gardner-Webb’s poses virtually zero passing threat. GWU is averaging just 82 passing yards per game this season with a completion percentage below 50%.

X-Factor for this game

Get an early lead.

Gardner-Webb has yet to score in the 1st quarter of a game this season, being outscored 19-0. If the Flames are able to jump out to an early lead, it will get the Runnin’ Bulldogs out of their comfort zone and force them to pass. Liberty is heavily favored, so letting GWU hang around will only give them confidence.

Score prediction
Liberty 34 Gardner-Webb 10