The #22 Liberty Flames (7-0) are back in action at home this weekend as the Flames take on Western Carolina (0-0). Kickoff is scheduled for noon from Williams Stadium in Lynchburg, Virginia and will be televised on ESPNU.
Liberty and Western Carolina are meeting for the first time in 12 years, but the Catamounts are the second most familiar opponent on the Flames’ 2020 schedule, following Coastal Carolina. Entering this weekend’s matchup, the Flames have faced WCU six times. That is more games than Liberty had played against its first seven opponents combined (four) prior to the 2020 season.
The last meeting between the Flames and Catamounts was on Sept. 13, 2008 in Cullowhee where the Flames won 19-16. Liberty led 19-7 entering the fourth quarter prior to a late Western Carolina rally. The Flames’ Rashad Jennings led the way with 109 yards on 27 carries.
Though we are entering mid-November, this is Western Carolina’s first game of what will be an abbreviated fall schedule for the FCS member. WCU is scheduled to face Eastern Kentucky on Nov. 21 and North Carolina on Dec. 11.
“You talk about 2020 being strange, we’re playing our 8th football game and facing an opponent that hasn’t had a game,” Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze stated. “Now, that’s strange and uncomfortable. Not quite sure what to prepare for.”
This is the third time this season the Flames are facing an opponent who are playing in its first game of the season. Florida International and North Alabama also faced Liberty for their first game of the 2020 campaign, but doing so in mid-November is a little bit different.
Western Carolina is led by head coach Mark Speir who is entering his ninth season as head coach. Defensive coordinator Andy McCollum is in his first season at Western Carolina.
“They have a brand new defensive coordinator, Andy McCollum, who is a good friend of mine, but it’s been a long time since he’s coordinated,” Freeze said. “He was a head coach at Middle (Tennessee), then a linebackers coach, coordinator at Baylor, then a head coach at Middle, then linebacker coach at Georgia Tech under several different coordinators. So, I’m really not sure what he’s going to do defensively. He wasn’t there last year, so it’s very difficult. We’ve got two sets of thoughts going on in our preparation offensively.”
Offensively, Western Carolina is looking to replace four-year starter Tyrie Adams. His backup the past two seasons, Will Jones, is fighting to become the new starter. Transfers Mark Wright (Hutchinson CC) and Marcelo Rodriguez (Southern Miss) are also competing for the starting spot. It could be that all three see playing time on Saturday, but Freeze is confident WCU will have a similar offensive philosophy regardless of who is the starting quarterback.
“We think they will be similar, it’s the same coordinator or the head coach may call it, I’m not sure,” said Freeze. ;”They have a little better idea, but it’s still uncomfortable to know you’re playing a team that hasn’t played a game yet and they’ve had eight weeks or however many weeks they’ve practiced to get ready for this game. It’s a little uncomfortable.”
Freeze has repeatedly emphasized to his team that this week is about the Flames. They need to focus on improving in every facet of the game, and the rest of the game plan will fall in to place.
“To me this whole week is about us,” he said. “Obviously you prepare and you do different things based on your opponent, but let’s make it more about us and making sure that we are prepared for Saturday and whatever that brings in their schemes or adjustments that we have to make. I’m not a coach who believes that your kids are going to be emotionally the same from every Saturday. I think that’s an unrealistic expectation. When you have unrealistic expectations, you typically have frustrations. That’s not one that I have expect to have every Saturday. I expect them to be emotionally ready by Saturday. Will they be this Saturday at the same emotional peak? Probably not, but I’ve never seen that win or lose games. I have seen their execution and preparation win and lose games. That’s what our whole focus will be about with us.”
- Liberty has won nine consecutive games, the second longest active streak in the nation, second only to Notre Dame, and nine straight games at Williams Stadium.
- Malik Willis is one of four Flames who have rushed for 100 yards in a game this season. Liberty is currently ranked No.12 nationally in rushing yards with 254.6 yards per game. The Flames are 11-0 under Hugh Freeze when outrushing its opponent.
- Liberty is looking for its third straight win over Western Carolina.
- The Flames are looking to extend the program’s best ever start to a season, currently at 7-0.
- Liberty is 5-0 against FCS opponents since moving to the FBS.
Hugh Freeze on avoiding a letdown – “This one has the same value as last week’s in the win-loss column. There’s no difference. It doesn’t count any more, any less, and we must prepare. I do think one strength our staff has is consistency in our approach. They won’t see any difference in my approach and our staff will follow that. Hopefully, the leadership of the team that I meet with in our Leadership Council they will echo that when we’re not around and it will show in our preparation. We’ve already begun that. We introduced our new theme this week. I taught the lesson that this morning. I planned those back in the summer and we’ve been blessed that they are right on point for each week that we have.
Defensive Coordinator Scott Symons on Western Carolina- “”They’ve got nine starters coming back on offense. They are a team that has a lot of experience. We’re not going to overlook anybody. I think our kids are hungry. I expect them to prepare as such.”
#22 Liberty 48, Western Carolina 7
This game is all about Liberty. The Flames are huge favorites and should have no problems with the FCS Catamounts.