Liberty (3-4, 0-1 Big South) enters Saturday’s game on the heels of two heartbreaking losses, most recently a 55-52 setback to #3/6 Coastal Carolina in Lynchburg ... The Flames have lost four games by the slimmest of margins (5.8 ppg) ... Three of Liberty’s four losses have seen the team hold a fourth quarter lead, including the 17-10 opener at FBS member Kent State ... Quarterback Josh Woodrum (6-3, 210, RSo.) was the 2012 Big South Freshman of the Year and had 373 yards and three TD last season vs. Gardner-Webb ... Liberty has the league’s most feared secondary, paced by corners Walt Aikens (6-1, 200) and Kevin Fogg (5-10, 190) ... The Flames offensive line is an intimidating group, averaging 6’4 1/4”, 309 pounds per man ... Only one of Liberty’s top eight offensive linemen weighs under 300 pounds (Max Sommer - 6-6, 290) ... Running back Desmond Rice (5-8, 195, Jr.) ran for a career-high 170 yards and three TD on just 21 carries last week vs. CCU.
Gardner-Webb will host Big South stalwart Liberty at 1:30 pm, its first home game since September 28. The game will air live on ESPN3 (WatchESPN.com), with Evan Lepler and Ralph Patterson providing the call from Spangler Stadium. Audio will also be available via WGWG-FM (88.3 / wgwg.org), with Fabian Fuentes handling that duty.
Liberty leads the overall series with Gardner-Webb, 10-8-1, and has won six in a row ... GWU’s last win came on a late field goal in Lynchburg in 2006 ... The series is tied, 4-4-1, in games played in Boiling Springs and Ernest W. Spangler Stadium ... Gardner-Webb won five out of six meetings from 2001-2006 ... Last season’s game was decided by a touchdown on Homecoming in Lynchburg, Va., with Liberty rallying from a 28-10 deficit to win 42-35 ... The Flames have scored at least 30 points in the series six consecutive times, averaging 38.3 points per contest since 2007.
October 2, 1976 Gardner-Webb 54, Liberty 16 (Boiling Springs)
October 1, 1977 Gardner-Webb 22, Liberty 7 (Lynchburg)
September 20, 1978 Gardner-Webb 20, Liberty 20 (Boiling Springs)
September 29, 1979 Liberty 32, Gardner-Webb 29 (Roanoke)
October 18, 1980 Liberty 15, Gardner-Webb 14 (Boiling Springs)
October 3, 1981 Gardner-Webb 14, Liberty 9 (Lynchburg)
September 16, 2000 Liberty 19, Gardner-Webb 8 (Lynchburg)
October 20, 2001 Gardner-Webb 29, Liberty 25 (Boiling Springs)
October 5, 2002 Gardner-Webb 31, Liberty 21 (Lynchburg)
October 11, 2003 Gardner-Webb 27, Liberty 17 (Boiling Springs)
October 2, 2004 Liberty 17, Gardner-Webb 9 (Lynchburg)
October 29, 2005 Gardner-Webb 21, Liberty 16 (Boiling Springs)
October 21, 2006 Gardner-Webb 27, Liberty 24 (Lynchburg)
November 17, 2007 Liberty 31, Gardner-Webb 0 (Boiling Springs)
November 15, 2008 Liberty 30, Gardner-Webb 10 (Lynchburg)
November 14, 2009 Liberty 51, Gardner-Webb 28 (Boiling Springs)
November 6, 2010 Liberty 41, Gardner-Webb 14 (Lynchburg)
October 8, 2011 Liberty 35, Gardner-Webb 3 (Boiling Springs)
October 6, 2012 Liberty 42, Gardner-Webb 35 (Lynchburg)
Gardner-Webb head coach Carroll McCray (Class of ‘83) is in his first season at the helm of his alma mater, becoming the first alumnus to hold the position since Woody Fish (1984-1996). Former Nebraska quarterback Turner Gill is in his second season at Liberty and holds a 9-9 overall mark (5-2 in the Big South Conference). Gill also has head coaching experience at Buffalo and Kansas, forging an overall career ledger of 34-58. Gill is 2-0 during his overall career against Gardner-Webb, picking up a win in 2009 while at FBS member Buffalo and last season with the Flames.
TAKE ANOTHER LOOK
Instant replay will be used by officials for the first time in Spangler Stadium history when the Runnin’ Bulldogs battle Liberty, with the game televised as the Big South’s Game of the Week by ESPN3. DVSport, the same company that handles replay for all BCS conference games, will be on hand to provide the same multiple reviews. The Big South is one of the first FCS conferences to institute official instant replay during its televised league football games.
Receiver Kenny Cook (6-4, 210, RJr.) is enjoying a career year through seven games, leading the Big South Conference with 41 catches. Cook is just seven shy of last season’s 11-game total, and leads Gardner-Webb with 501 yards and five receiving touchdowns. The Cross Hill, S.C., native has hauled in 89 catches for 1,167 yards and 12 touchdowns during his 18-game career in Boiling Springs, which places him 17th in GWU history. Cook has hauled in 14 passes on third down this season, with 12 of those receptions going for first downs or scores. In his two seasons with GWU, Cook has seen 85.7 percent of his third down receptions go for first downs or scores. He has caught 93.3 percent of his targets on third down this season (14-of-15). Cook has gone for 100 yards in two consecutive games, giving him five for his career (three in 2013). He had seven catches for a career-high 146 yards at Liberty last season, but did not reach the end zone against the Flames.
Veteran back Juanne Blount (5-9, 201, RJr.) is in the midst of a career-best season, ranking second in the Big South Conference with 705 yards rushing through seven games (100.7 ypg). Blount leads the league with a career-best 165 carries and has punched in five touchdowns on the ground. The former Forest Hills (N.C.) High option quarterback needs just 210 yards to reach 2,000 for his career, and has scored 14 touchdowns in his three seasons. Blount currently ranks 11th in Gardner-Webb history in rushing yards and 12 in touchdowns scored on the ground. He has topped the 100-yard mark three times so far in 2013, with GWU posting a 2-1 record in those games.
Gardner-Webb has enjoyed a much improved defensive season to date, ranking No. 20 nationally in total yards allowed per game through seven contests. That mark is 71 spots higher than the 2012 unit’s finish – and currently leads the Big South (334.3 ypg). The Runnin’ Bulldogs have been less menacing over the past five quarters, however, with a rash of injuries at several key positions sapping depth and overall performance. After allowing only 41 points in its previous 16 quarters (2.6 ppQ), Gardner-Webb has allowed 71 points in its last five quarters (14.2 ppQ). A common thread – GWU played without three of its four starting linebackers in the first of those five quarters at Charlotte (10/5) and saw a 45-24 lead disappear. GWU was without All-Big South candidates Chad Geter (6-2, 233, So.) and Ivan Toomer (6-1, 197, RSo.) for the entire Coastal Carolina game (10/12). The ‘Dogs also saw All-America linebacker Tanner Burch (6-3, 241, Jr.) go down with an injury at Coastal, although he returned to play the second half in a cast.
EXPERIENCED ROSTER FOR RUNNIN’ BULLDOGS
Gardner-Webb has 30 men in at least their third season of college football on the two-deep heading into the 2013 season, including 22 juniors and seniors. A total of 14 juniors and seniors among that group had the benefit of a redshirt season. The Runnin’ Bulldogs have a total of 40 players on the current roster who have started at least once during their college career. Eight of those men made their first career starts in the first seven games of 2013.
PILING UP AIR MILES
Gardner-Webb quarterback Lucas Beatty (6-2, 212, RJr.) continues to climb the Gardner-Webb passing charts, and needs just 299 yards to become the eighth quarterback in program history to reach 5,000 yards. Beatty remains the school’s career completion percentage leader (62.4) and has completed 416-of-667 passes for 4,701 yards and 22 touchdowns. This season, Beatty has completed 63.7 percent of his passes for 1,587 yards and eight touchdowns. Against Liberty last season, he hit on 16 of his first 17 passes for more than 300 yards in the opening half, and finished with a Big South completion percentage record (84.4 percent) and 383 yards – a career-high mark he passed earlier this season with 389 yards at Charlotte (10/5).
HANG ON TO IT
Gardner-Webb has been stifled several times this season by turnovers, ranking 109th (of 122) nationally in both turnovers lost and fumbles lost through seven games. In its three losses, Gardner-Webb sits at a minus-11 deficit in turnover margin (-3.67 per game) and has been outscored off of those turnovers by an agregate 62-0 score (minus-20.6 per game). Gardner-Webb has allowed just seven points to be scored off of turnovers in its four wins – and has scored 27 itself off of opponent miscues in those four games.
Last season’s wild game between Gardner-Webb and Liberty pitted two very hot quarterbacks on October 6, as Lucas Beatty (6-2, 212, RJr.) and Josh Woodrum (6-3, 210, RSo.) locked in an offensive showdown won by the Flames, 42-35. The two signal callers combined for 756 yards passing, compled 82.5 percent of their passes and directed offenses that combined for close to 1,000 yards in a regulation contest (989 yards / 46 first downs). Beatty’s 27-of-32 effort for 383 yards set a new Big South completion percentage record (84.4%) that still stands. Woodrum was 25-of-31 for 373 yards and three scores – a career-best mark he broke this past weekend against #4/6 Coastal Carolina in another shootout. Both men have thrown for more than 1,500 yards this season through seven games.
MAJOR COLLEGE EXPERIENCE
Gardner-Webb’s coaching staff has garnered significant experience – both as players and coaches – at the highest level of college football. Head coach Carroll McCray has spent time at both South Carolina and Mississippi State as offensive line coach. Defensive coordinator Randall McCray spent time at South Carolina as a graduate assistant, and has been a position coach at both Wisconsin and Pittsburgh. The younger McCray also worked as defensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee State, among other Division I stops during his career. Running backs coach Brett Hickman worked as a graduate assistant at East Carolina. Quarterbacks coach Brett Nichols played at South Carolina, receivers coach La’Donte Harris played at Clemson, assistant head coach / offensive line coach Kenny Ray played at Southern Miss and defensive line coach Issac Mooring played at North Carolina.
Gardner-Webb will appear in front of television cameras six times in 2013, the most ever for a single season on the gridiron. GWU will play four times on ESPN3 (WatchESPN.com), the worldwide leader’s broadband video service and will play local/regional television games on WMYA-40 (Furman, 8/31) and WCCB-18 (Charlotte, 10/5). Gardner-Webb’s home games with Point (9/28), Warner (11/2) and Charleston Southern (11/16) will air on the Big South Network – free in 2013 for all viewers.
THIS WEEK’S BIG SOUTH CONFERENCE GAMES
Saturday, October 26
Charlotte at #24 Charleston Southern, 1:00 PM (Big South Network)
Liberty at Gardner-Webb, 1:30 PM (ESPN3)
Point (Ga.) at Presbyterian, 2:00 PM (Big South Network)
VMI at #4/6 Coastal Carolina, 6:00 PM (Big South Network)
Tight end Mike Estes (6-4, 230, RFr.) earned Big South Conference Freshman of the Week honors for the first time following a career-best effort at Charlotte (10/5). The Raleigh, N.C., rookie had four catches for 74 yards and his first career touchdown, a 27-yarder that gave GWU a 45-24 lead late in the third quarter. All four of Estes catches went for first downs and came in the final 30 minutes. Estes followed that effort with two catches for 45 yards at Coastal Carolina, including a 40-yard reception just before halftime. Estes earned CFPA honorable mention FCS Tight End of the Week honors for the third week in a row after that performance. He has hauled in 13 passes for 223 yards and a score so far this season, leading the team with a 17.2 yards per catch average. Estes’ yardage total is tops among BIg South Conference tight ends in 2013.
WELCOME TO THE FAMILY
The Big South Conference announced in early September that Kennesaw State University would join the league as an associate member for football when it begins play in 2015. The league lineup that season will now include: Charleston Southern, Coastal Carolina, Gardner-Webb, Kennesaw State, Liberty, Monmouth and Presbyterian. Kennesaw State’s new head coach, Brian Bohanon, spent one season as an assistant at Gardner-Webb in 1996 – before heading off to join Paul Johnson’s staff at Georgia Southern, Navy and Georgia Tech.
Gardner-Webb has 17 student-athletes on its current roster who played on high school teams that either won a state title, played for a state title or were nationally ranked during their time in the program. Cornerback Drew White (5-9, 167, Sr.) played at one of the nation’s top high school programs at Concord (Calif.) De La Salle and went on to play two seasons at national junior college power City College of San Francisco. The Gaffney (S.C.) High quartet of Dewayne Wray (6-0, 295, RFr.), Russell Hughes (6-3, 278, Fr.), Don Manning (6-1, 254, RSr.) and Donovan Manning (6-2, 257, Fr.) each played for high-powered teams just south of the state line.
UP NEXT FOR GARDNER-WEBB
Gardner-Webb will host NAIA newcomer Warner (Fla.) next Saturday, November 2, in Spangler Stadium. Kickoff is set for 1:30 pm and will be broadcast live via the Big South Network. WGWG-FM (88.3 / wgwg.org) will also carry the game. Warner will have at least two familiar faces: former GWU tight end Trey Schley is suiting up for Warner this season and the team’s defensive coordinator, Tony Pierce, served in the same capacity at Gardner-Webb for two seasons. †