The Flames dropped their season opener to North Carolina by a score of 56-29. Liberty held a one point lead mid-way through the 3rd quarter, but were unable to hold on as the Tarheels scored 28 points over a 3:49 span. Much like a game against a Division II opponent, it is somewhat difficult to grade the team against a ranked ACC team. We will know much more about this team after the Norfolk State game next week. However, without further ado, here are our team grades for Week 1.
The Flames totaled 346 yards of offense on the night, which isn’t bad against an ACC opponent. However, Liberty’s 6 turnovers are the primary reason this game got out of control in the 3rd quarter. The Offensive Line looks as good as advertised, and the combo of D.J. Abnar and Todd Macon running the ball looks strong. The Quarterback to Wide Receiver connection was a little shaky though. Josh Woodrum was 16-33 for 189 yards passing and 2 interceptions. He did stare down receivers at times, and showed a lack of accuracy at others. However, the blame isn’t all on him, as his receivers, most notably the usually reliable Darrin Peterson, had a case of the dropsies all night. Woodrum and the offense will have to improve if the Flames are going to make it where they want to go this season.
Liberty’s defense shook off a slow start and played a pretty solid game. However, it became clear that the unit tired in the second half. As LU’s offense sputtered, the defense was on the field far too much, and UNC was able to capitalize. Operating against a high tempo offense is never easy, and the Flames stood up better than the scoreline indicates. Carolina was just given far too many short fields, and Liberty’s defense had its back to the wall. The secondary was a question mark coming into the season, but they performed well, forcing 3 interceptions and a fumble.
Special Teams: C+
Breaking in a new punter and a new kicker in one game is no easy task. However, the Flames’ new specialists performed well against top notch competition last night. Going up against one of the best return men in the nation, Trey Turner punted decently, averaging just over 41 yards per punt. He also placed the ball well enough to limit Carolina’s return game. Kicker Avery Echols could have put the ball deeper on kickoffs, but he did not get to attempt a field goal, so it is difficult to judge his performance overall. New return man Zac Parker also saw very little action, as UNC’s Kicker consistently kicked the ball through the end zone on kickoffs, and returnable punts were few and far between.
This was a game that, on paper, didn’t bode well for Liberty. For 50 minutes of football, the Flames hung right with the #23 team in the nation though. If Liberty can protect the football, and become a more consistent offensive club, we as fans may be celebrating a special season at the end of the year. At the end of the day, this was a high profile exhibition. The loss does nothing to hurt Liberty’s shot at the FCS playoffs. No harm, no foul, so to speak. Next week’s contest against a stingy Norfolk State defense is much more important to the Flames’ fate in 2014.