Liberty (10-0, 7-0 CUSA) concludes their non-conference and home portion of the regular season schedule this week as UMass (3-7) comes to Lynchburg, Virginia on Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. on ESPN+.
The Minutemen have a losing record but come in riding some momentum, having not lost a game since October 14 against Penn State. Since that time, UMass has had two open dates and picked up wins over Army (21-14) and Merrimack (31-21).
UMass has played a challenging schedule, losing to Auburn, Penn State, and the top two teams in the MAC, Toledo and Miami (Ohio). They opened the season with a win over New Mexico State, who will meet Liberty in the CUSA Championship Game.
“They have played a lot of good teams,” Liberty head coach Jamey Chadwell said of UMass. “They are on a two game winning streak. They’ve had an open date before, so there is plenty of time to get ready for us. They are playing with a lot of confidence. We can’t roll the ball out and just show up and beat anybody. It’s not how we have to operate. Our whole focus has to be on us playing well this week, and I believe we will. I think our guys understand the importance of playing on senior day at home. It’s, obviously, our last regular season home game of the year. It’s a big deal. There is a lot for us to play for.”
The Flames and Minutemen have played in each of the previous five seasons, meeting on the gridiron every year Liberty has been at the FBS level. Liberty leads the series 4-1 and have won four straight including 42-24 last year in Massachusetts.
“We will have to play well to beat UMass,” said Chadwell. “I know what their record is and I know they are the underdog or whatever it may be. They have good players. Their head coach has been a D-Coordinator for a long time at a lot of places. He’s going to have a great defensive scheme. They’ve got good players transfer wise. On offense, great running back, receiver, quarterback that played at Clemson and (Georgia Tech). They’ve got good people. If we don’t show up, they we will be in a dog fight.”
Former Clemson and Georgia Tech transfer, Taisun Phommachanh has taken over as the UMass quarterback this season. He played for the Tigers from 2019-21 while appearing in 13 games over three seasons. Phommachanh played in two games at Georgia Tech in 2022.
This year at UMass in 7 games played, Phommachanh has completed 99 of 159 passes for 1,038 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. He has also rushed 43 times for 40 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Kay’Ron Adams has led the Minutemen on the ground, rushing 201 times for 1,014 yards and 9 touchdowns. He also has 16 catches for 90 yards.
“He’s really good,” Chadwell said of Adams. “He’s a physical guy, hard to tackle. We’ve got some good backs that we’ve played in our league this season and out of conference. I would argue he’s probably the best one from an overall ability standpoint to where he’s got the speed to beat you. The thing that our guys have been impressed with is he’s able to run through tackles. He is a physical guy. He comes right at you. Anytime you have a guy who is over 100 yards a game you are doing something right. I would say he’s probably the best one we have seen as far as an individual guy, or close to it.”
Phommachanh’s favorite target is Anthony Simpson who has 45 rushes for 637 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also has 11 carries for 93 yards. George Johnson is second on the team with 28 catches for 355 yards and 3 touchdowns while Mark Pope has 24 catches for 301 yards and a touchdown.
“They are on a two game win streak, they have an open date to get healthy,” said Chadwell. “They are probably, arguably, going to be healthier than they’ve ever been. We know that they are going to know everything that we do. They are going to have a plan for it. We are going to have to have a good week of practice to be able to prepare for them and being able to play. Coach has done a really nice job there.”
Liberty 45, UMass 14
Line: Liberty -27.5
Picks results this year: