#26 Liberty FCS Football 2015 Preview

George Hammond

Liberty Flames

Overall Rank: #26
#2 Big South

Liberty Team Page#26 Liberty FCS Football 2015 PreviewBuy Liberty Football Tickets

The Flames secured their first playoff bid and first playoff victory in 2014 and expectations again are high in Lynchburg, Virginia. The Flames earned a share of the Big South title last year when they shocked Coastal Carolina, 15-14, on Chima Uzowihe’s blocked field goal in the regular-season finale. It was one of several thrilling plays in the Flames’ memorable season. John Lunsford kicked a 60-yard field goal against Richmond to force overtime and Jacob Hagen sealed an overtime victory against FBS’ Appalachian State with an interception. The Flames defeated in-state foe James Madison 26-21 in the first round of the playoffs before bowing to Villanova, 29-22 in the rain in the quarterfinals.
2014 Record: 9-5, 4-1
2014 Postseason: FCS playoffs
Coach: Turner Gill (23-14 at Liberty and 48-63 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Aaron Stamn
Defensive Coordinator: Robert Wimberly

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: D.J. Abnar, RB, 1,289 yards
Passing: Josh Woodrum, QB, 2,947 yards
Receiving: Darrin Peterson, WR, 1,379 yards
Tackles: Nick Newman, LB, 79
Sacks: Chima Uzowihe, DL, 8
Interceptions: None

Other Key Returnees: OL Jonathan Burgess, OL Max Sommer, P Trey Turner, PK John Lunsford, RB Desmond Rice, DL JaRon Greene, DB Wesley Scott.

Key Losses: S Jacob Hagen, DL Toby Onyechi, WR Gabe Henderson, OL Greg Ray, OL Mitch Hanson, DL Dominique Davis, LB Nick Sigmon, LB Dylan Lewellyn.

Josh Woodrum returns as quarterback for his fourth season, as do running backs D.J. Abnar (1,289 rushing yards) and Desmond Rice. The latter sat out last season with a knee injury but in 2013 he had 967 yards and 13 rushing TDs. So the offense shouldn’t be a problem. Although Liberty wasn’t outstanding in any one facet of offense last year, its statistical numbers were mostly in the top half nationally. And the Flames return senior wideout Darrin Peterson, who along with Abnar, is a preseason all-Big South selection. The offensive line has two Big South picks in seniors Jonathan Burgess and Max Sommer. In addition, Liberty might have the best kicking game in the FCS. Senior John Lunsford, who booted the three longest fields goals in FCS play last year, 60, 57 and 56 yards, returns as does punter Trey Turner and long snapper Hunter Winstead. All three are preseason all-Big South picks.

The big concern is the defense, which lost seven starters from last year, and there are some significant losses, including two on the defensive line, two linebackers and a talented safety. The good news? Defensive tackle Chima Uzowihe, who led the conference in tackles for loss in 2014 returns as does linebacker Nick Newman, one of the top tacklers on the team last year. But statistically, even with all the veterans last year, Liberty wasn’t outstanding. The Flames were 78th nationally in rushing defense and 60th in scoring defense. The pass defense was in the top 40, but the other numbers must improve.

The Bottom Line:
One gets the sense that Liberty might have turned the corner last year with its playoff success. The Flames are picked second to Coastal Carolina in the preseason Big South coaches/media poll this year, but beating the Chanticleers won’t be easy. But before they can even worry about Coastal, the Flames have several obstacles in their way. They open with Delaware State from the MEAC, but follow that contest with a road game at West Virginia. Then comes Montana, Southern Illinois and Georgia State. If Liberty makes it through that stretch in good shape, the regular-season finale against Coastal Carolina could be huge with all kinds of playoff implications on the line.

Projected Postseason: None

2014 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 163.1 (63rd in nation, 4th in conference)
Passing Offense: 248.1 (32, 2)
Total Offense: 411.2 (39, 2)
Scoring Offense: 32.0 (35, 2)  
Rushing Defense: 185.2 (78, 5)
Pass Defense: 195.4 (38, 3)
Total Defense: 380.6 (56, 3)
Scoring Defense: 26.6 (60, 5)
Turnover Margin: 0.43 (28, 3)
Sacks: 2.07 (58, 1)
Sacks Allowed: 1.14 (15, 2)

Madness 2015 Recruit Rankings:
#124 Damian King


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