The #21 Liberty Flames (8-0) head to Raleigh, North Carolina as the Flames take on the NC State Wolfpack (5-3). Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. from Carter-Finley Stadium and will be televised on ACC Regional Networks.
This will be the second ever meeting between the two programs and first since Liberty has moved to the FBS. The first meeting was on Sept. 3, 2011 when the Flames fell, 43-21, despite 406 offensive yards compared to the Wolfpack’s 318 yards. Liberty was led by quarterback Mike Brown in that game who threw for 279 yards and rushed for 77 more, but the Flames were unable to overcome seven turnovers.
Saturday’s game will mark the Wolfpack’s fifth game against a ranked opponent this season. NC State defeated No. 24 Pittsburgh on Oct. 3, 30-29, but have lost their other games against ranked opponents, at No. 20 Virginia Tech, at No. 14 North Carolina, and against No. 11 Miami. They are unbeaten against unranked opponents, however, with wins over Wake Forest, Virginia Duke, and Florida State.
“I don’t know if COVID affected NC State early or not, but it’s hard for me to see how they’ve lost three games when I put their tape on,” said Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze. “They are extremely talented and deep. Their linebackers and D-Line are extremely talented. Offensively, they know exactly what they’re doing. Their roster is stacked with 3 and 4 star kids. We’ve got our hands full with this one for sure.”
Bailey Hockman began the season as NC State’s starting quarterback, but he was pulled in the Wolfpack’s second game at Virginia Tech in favor of Devin Leary. Leary led State for the next four games before breaking his leg in the team’s win over Duke. The Wolfpack went back to Hockman who has taken his game to the next level over the past three games. During that span, Hockman has completed 57 of 86 passes for 728 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. He’s also led a Wolfpack offense which has scored 39.5 points in the past two games.
“I think Hockman is executing for them in their RPO stuff,” said Freeze. “They’ve got really good receivers, that 86 is a different animal now, he’s built different as is 6 and 88. Those offensive tackles are really talented also.”
The No. 86 Freeze is referring to is Emeka Emezie. The 6’3″, 220 pound wide receiver leads the team with 31 receptions for 515 yards and 4 touchdowns. Tight end Cary Angeline wears No. 6 and leads the team with 6 touchdown receptions while also adding 18 receptions for 279 yards. No. 88 Devin Carter also has 18 receptions and another 290 receiving yards.
At running back, the Wolfpack utilize a two-headed monster in Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person, Jr. who have combined for nearly 1,000 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns so far this season.
“Their defensive front is bigger, faster, stronger than we’ve faced this year,” said Freeze. “They are very well coached and just difficult to block. Their nose guard is the best player we’ve faced this year, defensively. They pose a problem.”
NC State utilizes a 3-3-5 base defensive scheme. Alim McNeill is the nose tackle which mans the middle. He’s recorded 18 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 1 interception, and a defensive touchdown. He has graded out as the top Power Five interior lineman by Pro Football Focus throughout the season.
“It is an ACC opponent that is full of 3 and 4 star players,” said Freeze. “It shows when they put the uniform on, that’s what they’re supposed to look like. It’s a great, great challenge of us just matching their physicality and their size and speed for a 60 minute game is going to be a challenge.”
- A win on Saturday would tie Liberty’s program record of 11 consecutive victories during the 2007-2008 seasons.
- Hugh Freeze and Dave Doeren are facing each other for the first time as head coaches, but they nearly squared off at the end of the 2011 season. Arkansas State and Doeren’s Northern Illinois squad met in the 2011 GoDaddy.com Bowl but Freeze was hired by Ole Miss prior to the game and did not coach in it.
- NC State is 1-3 against Top 25 teams this season and 4-0 against unranked opponents.
- Liberty’s defense is currently ranked No. 14 nationally in total yards allowed, in allowing 308 yards per game.
- The Flames rank No. 12 nationally with 254.5 rushing yards per game, including 293.5 per game against ACC foes. The Flames are 12-0 under Freeze when outrushing their opponent, including a 7-0 mark this season.
- Liberty is looking to start the season 4-0 on the road with three of those games coming against ACC opponents. Prior to this season, the Flames were just 3-9 on the road since moving up to the FBS prior to the 2018 season.
Hugh Freeze on avoiding a letdown – “We are very grateful and thankful to be another week in the top 25. I showed them the picture again this morning they had to look up one spot on the picture. I told them they should delete the other two and replace it with this one and save it for their future, put it on a wall somewhere. That’s real this week and in order for it to stay real we certainly have to find a way to compete Saturday night with our toughest opponent year to date.”.
Freeze on Liberty playing with confidence after beating two ACC opponents earlier this season – “Experience is a great teacher. From that, you’re either going to gain wisdom to do something different or confidence to do what you did again. The one thing I do not concern myself with or really worry will be our confidence going into Saturday. I think we breed confidence into our players. I think their experiences that they’ve had with us thus far give them reason to believe that we will go in and compete. I worry about that nose guard and I worry about that RPO and I worry about all that, but I don’t really worry about our confidence because of obviously the experiences we’ve shared together thus far.”
DC Scott Symons on NC State – “You watch them on film and they’re not a 5-3 football team, they’re a 7-8 win looking team. I think they are by far the best football team we have played this year. I think our kids are excited about the challenge.”
WR Kevin Shaa on the team’s confidence- “We have real high confidence. I personally feel like we can step on the field with anybody and compete. We feel we belong on the field with anybody so when we get on the field we can win.”
QB Malik Willis on the team’s 2020 season – “I’m just taking it one day at a time and each day trying to get better, whether it’s on the field or off the field. I’m just thankful for this journey God has me on. Thankful for all the things he’s putting in my life and show me, just want to keep it going.”
#21 Liberty 35, NC State 30
Liberty has the confidence it can play with just about any team in the country. The Wolfpack are playing very well, and it will be interesting to see if Hugh Freeze utilizes the same game plan he did in Blacksburg against Virginia Tech when he slowed everything down and kept the ball out of the hands of the Hokies’ offense. Liberty must win the turnover battle, unlike it did at Virginia Tech, and the offense must be very efficient like it has most of the season.