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Liberty Flames vs Jacksonville State Preview

A battle of two top-25 FCS schools!

NCAA Football: Jacksonville State at Georgia Tech
If the Flames want to win, they need to stop this guy.
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Start Time: Saturday, September 23rd, 2017, 7:00 PM Eastern

TV: OVC Digital Network

Location: Burgess-Snow Field, Jacksonville, Alabama

Previous Meeting: 9/24/2016, 48-19 Jacksonville State

Series Record: Jacksonville State leads 3-0

The Liberty Flames travel to Jacksonville, Alabama to take on the Jacksonville State Gamecocks. Last week, Liberty just squeaked by Indiana State at home as they blocked a 23-yard field goal as time expired to preserve the victory and undefeated season. Now Liberty seeks another high profile win while seeking revenge on a team that completely embarrassed them last season. Let’s see what the Flames are up against.

Jacksonville State is ranked 5th in the STATS Poll and 7th in the Coach’s Poll while Liberty is ranked 16th in the STATS Poll (as a transitioning school, Liberty is unable to be ranked by the coaches). The Gamecocks have an impressive 32-game winning streak against non-FBS opponents and haven’t lost a regular-season game at home since 10/12/2013 against Tennessee State. The Gamecocks are coached by John Grass, a 1990 graduate of the school, and have a 34-7 record in over Grass’s three years at the school. He has won the conference championship in each season coaching the team.

The offense is built around rushing the ball as the Gamecocks average 150 yards per game on the ground while only average 127.5 in the air. The line is anchored by preseason All-American left tackle Justin Lea. The entire starting offense has only one freshman, at tight end, while the remaining ten starters feature none younger than two redshirt sophomores. Redshirt sophomore Bryant Horn leads to team at quarterback and senior running back Roc Thomas form a dual-threat on the ground that was deadly to the Flames in 2016. Though Horn was not quarterback then, Eli Jenkins scored four times (two passing, two rushing) and 6.7 yards per carry, including a 76 yard score. Thomas caught one of those touchdown passes and ran in another with a 7.9 yard per carry average and 111 yards to go with Jenkins’s 121 on the ground. If it were not for the Gamecocks’ two turnovers and only completing three of 14 third down conversions (and none of their two fourth downs), the score would have been more disastrous for the Flames.

In last year’s contest, the Flames could only muster 181 yards against the stingy defense of the Gamecocks. This year, the Gamecocks have eight of 11 starters having four years of experience or more. Defensive end Darius Jackson and safety Marlon Bridges have both earned pre-season All-American honors from various sources. This year, the Flames have quarterback Stephen Calvert to lead the team.

He took over as the starting quarterback as a true freshman after last season’s game against Jacksonville State and hasn’t looked back. Now he has the offense hitting on all cylinders and needs to bring his and the team’s A-game for Saturday. With Baylor in a downward spiral, Jacksonville State could be the best team the Flames play in 2017.

I expect the Gamecocks to run right over Liberty. The Flames have shown a defense as strong as wet paper thus far in 2017 and I’d argue it has been getting worse instead of better. Jacksonville State is as good as any other FCS program right now and I have a hard time believing that Liberty will beat them on the road. The Flames will probably score some points but won’t be able to match the Gamecocks. I predict a 35-24 victory of Jacksonville State as Liberty suffers their first defeat of the season.