After dropping a tight game on the road against FBS Kent State, the Flames return to Williams Stadium for the home opener against the Monmouth Hawks. Monmouth comes in as an FCS Independent, however the Hawks will be joining the Big South as a football only member next season. So not only is this the home opener for Liberty, it is a preview of a conference match up for the 2014 season.
Monmouth finished 2012 with a record of 5-5, including a loss to common opponent Lehigh. Liberty, of course lost to Lehigh as well in 2012. The Hawks are led by Head Coach Kevin Callahan, the only Head Coach in the program’s 21 year history. Callahan entered the season with a career record of 114-91, and has sent five Hawks to the NFL, most notably Dallas Cowboys’ WR Miles Austin. While Monmouth only has 40 scholarships (Liberty has 63), the Hawks will feature an FBS transfer at Quarterback in Brandon Hill. Other key players include RB Julian Hayes, who rushed for 135 yards against #2 Montana State, and WR Neal Sterling, a 6’4″ 235 Lbs. Senior who is sure to get plenty of attention from the Flames’ secondary.
The Hawks traveled to Montana State for week one, a tough opponent for any team. While the 42-24 final score may appear respectable, the #2 ranked Bobcats took their collective foot off the gas at halftime, up 39-3. While Liberty’s Williams Stadium has become one of the best atmospheres in FCS, Montana State is on a different level. The Bobcats are 19-4 at home since 2010, and those four losses all came to elite programs in Eastern Washington, Montana, and North Dakota State. It’s reasonable to believe that Monmouth won’t be seeing anything new in terms of atmosphere on Saturday night.
Liberty will be looking to find some consistency on offense, after a somewhat jerky performance against Kent State. The key should be establishing the run game early, which will open up the passing options for Josh Woodrum and his cast of young receivers. Defensively, the Flames will be attempting to build on a solid performance and turn up the heat on QB Brandon Hill. CB’s Walt Aikens and Kevin Fogg will need to limit Neal Sterling’s touches and eliminate the big play.
While Monmouth will continue to improve and be a solid member of Big South football, Liberty should have too many advantages in this year’s contest. The Flames will have plenty of adrenaline flowing in the home opener, have 23 more scholarship players to work with, and enjoy a size advantage in the trenches. Liberty’s defense has the capability of shutting the Hawks’ offense down, and should the Flames’ offense find a rhythm, this one will be out of reach in the 4th quarter. Williams Stadium should be rocking Saturday night. The weather looks great, and we are all excited to kick things off in Lynchburg.