#21 Liberty FCS Football 2014 Preview

George Hammond

Liberty Flames

Overall Rank: #21
#2 Big South

Liberty Team Page#21 Liberty FCS Football 2014 PreviewBuy Liberty Football Tickets

Liberty shared the Big South crown with Coastal Carolina last year, but the Flames (8-4, 4-1) missed out on earning the league title outright when they fell to Coastal 55-52 in double-overtime. Liberty saw its 18-game Big South winning streak snapped in that contest when the Chanticleers rallied from a 19-point second-half deficit. All four losses last year were by single digits, but Liberty did finish the year with five consecutive victories. As always, expectations are high in Lynchburg, Virginia, as the Liberty faithful are getting antsy for a FCS playoff berth. With Appalachian State and North Carolina on the schedule, the Flames will face two FBS teams for the first time since 2003. Still, the contest on November 22nd against Coastal Carolina will likely define their season. The winner of that game has gone on to claim or at least share the conference title in nine of the last ten years.

2013 Record: 8-4, 4-1
2013 Postseason: None
Coach: Turner Gill (14-9 at Liberty, 39-58 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Aaron Stamm
Co-Defensive Coordinators: Robert Wimberly and Vantz Singletary

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: D.J. Abnar, RB, 411 yards
Passing: Josh Woodrum, QB, 2,581 yards
Receiving: Darrin Peterson, WR, 825 yards
Tackles: Nick Sigmon, LB, 62
Sacks: Chima Uzowihe, DL, 7.0
Interceptions: Jacob Hagen, CB, 6

Other Key Returnees: OL Jonathan Burgess, OL Greg Ray, OL Mitch Hanson, K John Lunsford, WR Gabe Henderson, WR Dante Shells, DL Dylan Bowman, DL JaRon Greene, CB Wesley Scott, CB Kenny Scott.

Key Losses: CB Kevin Fogg CB Walt Aikens, RB Desmond Rice, OL Hunter Steward, OL Malcolm Boyd, DL Cory Freeman, DL Jidrille Fewell, DL Francis Bah.

Veteran quarterback Josh Woodrum gives the Flames a key leader, and a talented one too. Woodrum was a second-team all-Big South selection in 2013 and was the league leader in passing yards (2,581) and touchdowns (19). He has a talented group of receivers led by Darrin Peterson, a preseason all-conference selection. Also back are Gabe Henderson and Dante Shells. The three combined for 134 receptions and 11 touchdowns. Most of the offensive line returns intact so there’s plenty of experience on that side of the ball. Offensive linemen Jonathan Burgess, Greg Ray and Mitch Hanson all received preseason all-conference recognition. On defense, Chima Uzowihe has the potential, according to Turner Gill, to be the Big South’s Defensive Player of the Year. Uzowihe had seven sacks last year, good enough for second in the league.

There are questions on defense. Outside of Uzowihe, the defensive front took a hit with the loss of Cory Freeman, Jibrille Fewell and Francis Bah. The secondary will need to be solidified as standouts Kevin Fogg and Walt Aikens are gone. Fogg, who had four interceptions last year, helped Liberty to a No. 5 national ranking in interceptions in 2013. Although there is a wealth of offensive talent, the running game took a hit this spring when Des Rice, an all-Big South running back, suffered a knee injury in the spring and will miss the season. He rushed for 967 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. D.J. Abnar is being looked upon to carry the ground game with possible help from newcomer Austin Kaigler. The kicking game is up in the air as well, with the two-game suspension of John Lunsford (academics) to start the season.

The Bottom Line:
There are four key games on the schedule: August 30th at North Carolina, October 4th Richmond, October 11th at Appalachian State and November 22nd at Coastal Carolina. Liberty’s ultimate fortunes will rest on how it fares in these contests, particularly the last three. The meeting with Richmond is highly anticipated as it marks the return of former head coach Danny Rocco to Lynchburg. Rocco, who went 30-5 at Liberty, saw his Richmond squad upend Liberty last year 30-21 in a rain-soaked game. Also, the contest at Boone, N.C., is noteworthy because App State is a new member of the Sun Belt Conference, a league in which Liberty has shown a strong interest in joining but has not yet been invited. Woodrum and the offense should roll ... it’s a matter of whether the defense can do its part.  

Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs

2013 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 1784.1 (40th in nation, 2nd in conference)
Passing Offense: 236.8 (41st, 2)
Total Offense: 420.8 (35, 2)
Scoring Offense: 37.3 (16, 2)
Rushing Defense: 135.3 (31, 2)
Pass Defense: 178.6 (16, 2)
Total Defense: 313.9 (9, 2)
Scoring Defense: 17.6 (5, 1)
Turnover Margin: 1.3 (3, 1)
Sacks: 1.83 (72, 4)
Sacks Allowed: 1.17 (22, 2)


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