Our 2020 Liberty football season preview rolls into a week-3 matchup at Western Kentucky.

The Hilltoppers went 9-4 in 2019 en route to a last-second field goal victory over Western Michigan in the First Responder Bowl. While then-freshman kicker Cory Munson’s leg may have booted the Hilltoppers to a bowl victory, Western Kentucky’s defense got them there.

After opening 2019 with losses against Central Arkansas and Louisville, the Hilltoppers reeled off a three-game winning streak against UAB, Army and Charlotte. After losses against Marshall and Lane Kiffin’s FAU, the Hilltoppers won out: including a 45-19 drubbing of Arkansas, and a 28-10 victory over Southern Miss, another team on Liberty’s 2020 slate. The scores of Western Kentucky’s scores tell a story beyond wins.

20-14 over UAB. 20-3 over Old Dominion. 17-8 over Army, who runs the confusing wishbone offense to near-perfection. 30-14 over Charlotte, and strong defensive showings against Arkansas and Southern Miss. In six of their wins, the Hilltoppers gave up less than 20 points; and in four of those wins, no more than 14.

Here’s another scary fact: the Hilltoppers return nearly every player on defense, save two DB’s, one linebacker, and one lineman who saw considerable playing time. Add graduate transfer linebacker Will Ignot from Tennessee, and the Hilltoppers have a 2020 defense poised to hold several teams to under two touchdowns in 2020.

Steven Duncan will likely start under center for the Hilltoppers against Liberty. Duncan suffered a season-ending injury early in 2019, and will look to improve upon a mediocre 5-touchdown, 4-interception season through three games. Western Kentucky also returns junior wideout Jahcour Peterson, who finished second on the team in receiving in 2019 with 804 yards. Peterson could have a 1,000 yard season, provided that WKU’s quarterback play is consistent.

The Hilltoppers also return Gaej Walker, who rushed for 1,208 yards in 2019. Aside from Walker and Peterson, Western Kentucky will largely rely on role players from 2019’s squad to step into starting positions and produce. TE Joshua Simon, a rising sophomore tight end, gives Duncan a big 6’5, 235-pound target over in the middle of the field.

Western Kentucky’s offense won’t set records in 2019, but their defense very well could.

Liberty’s defense can contain the Hilltoppers, but Liberty will have to score at least three touchdowns in addition to a field goal or two if they hope to escape Western Kentucky with a win.

The Flames could very well win this game, but it will be a difficult test. While it’s still early, I think Western Kentucky’s defense holds the Flames to 20 points or less and the Hilltoppers escape with a narrow victory.

Projected Liberty record: 1-2