Start Time: Saturday, September 30th, 2017, 6:00 PM Eastern
TV: LFSN TV (WFFP Lynchburg 24/ESPN3/Big South Network/The Walk Network)
Location: Williams Stadium, Lynchburg, Virginia
Betting Line: None
Previous Meeting: 9/4/2010 was the last meeting with Liberty winning 52-7; Liberty leads the all-time series 2-0.
The Liberty Flames look to rebound from a rough road loss to Jacksonville State, which ended the perfect season of Turner Gill’s team. They travel home to host the St. Francis (PA) Red Flash, who bring a 2-1 record to Lynchburg. Let’s see how the visitors from the NEC stack up.
St. Francis Outlook
St. Francis had a strong start to the season, winning the first two games before falling to Towson 16-14 on a last-second field goal. Playing at Liberty will be the first away game for St. Francis this season, and they’ve had a bye week to prepare. The Red Flash are coached by Chris Villarrial, who has helmed the program for seven years, which culminated in the program’s first NEC championship and FCS playoff birth while earning the conference’s coach of the year award for a consecutive year.
The Red Flash bring an offense averaging 38 points per game. The star player is wide receiver Kamron Lewis, who is on the Walter Payton Award Watch List. He is a 6’ 4”, 195 lbs. junior who has 17 catches for 264 yards and four touchdowns. Throwing him the ball is first-year starter Bear Fenimore, who has thrown eight touchdowns to just one interception thus far, and is completing 64.3% of his passes for 764 yards in the young season.
Fenimore has not shown to be much of a rushing threat. He has the talent as a graduate-transfer from the University of Houston. Opposite Lewis is a mix of players, though the most prominent is another graduate-transfer Jorge Solano, who stands at 5’ 9”, the only notable receiver under 6’ 2”.
Rushing the ball is primary running back Jymere Jordan-Toney who is averaging 5.3 yards per carry and has three touchdowns in 2017. The offense is anchored by a line that has four spots occupied by upperclassmen. The exception is redshirt freshman left guard Anthony Barber. At 275 lbs., Barber is 25 lbs. less than the next smallest lineman and an experienced Liberty line could expose his inexperience. I expect redshirt junior defensive tackle Gregg Storey to have success against Barber as the 6’5”, 345 lbs. defender will command a double-team.
St. Francis utilizes a 3-4 defense and is led by inside linebacker Ben Bruni and free safety Delondo Boyd with 22 and 21 tackles. Boyd has added a sack, interception, and two forced fumbles while Bruni has two tackles for a loss and two pass breakups. The team has five interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and five sacks, showing a big play potential on defense against the pass. Opponents are completing just 52.8% of passes and no touchdowns passing and average 3.5 yards per carry with one touchdown. Liberty’s offense will be tested just like it was against Jacksonville State.
The Flames will need to bring their A-game to beat the Red Flash. Liberty has been heavily penalized thus far, but the Red Flash have also been flagged often, averaging 71 yards of penalties per game.
We have yet to see St. Francis on the road this season, but they are coming off a bye which gave them more time to prepare for a road environment. The Flames will be taking their strength on offense against the strength of their defense.
I expect the Flames to play much more aggressive after trying to be conservative against Jacksonville State and it failing. All indications point to this being a close fight, but I have a feeling that Liberty comes out to make a statement against St. Francis and wants to put them down early.
Liberty will score early and build a lead that makes the Red Flash one-dimensional, riding a surprisingly good defensive effort to a 4-1 start to the season and winning 31-21.