Sep 8, 2009

Making the Grade

by Jake Petersen

Despite starting its season in the hostile confines of Milan Puskar Stadium at West Virginia University on Saturday, the Liberty Flames football team turned the heads of many with its stellar play throughout its first game of the season, hanging with the Mountaineers through most of the contest before eventually falling 33-20. Facing a perennially dominant Big East team like West Virginia was the perfect opportunity for the Flames to showcase their hidden talent to 57,950 screaming fans, and also to solidify themselves as one of the premier teams in the Football Championship Series (FCS). Here is a breakdown of how the Flames offensive, defensive and special teams units graded out in their first game of the season:

Offense — Unable to establish an effective running game against a tough WVU defense brought to light a glaring weakness in the Flames offensive attack. The Flames racked up a mere 89 yards on the ground, while WVU rushed for 195. In his first game as a Flame, quarterback Tommy Beecher impressed many by completing 22 of 33 passes for 210 yards and one touchdown. Mike Brown was the beneficiary of Beecher’s accuracy, as the redshirt sophomore hauled in 11 catches for 157 yards and one touchdown, including a spectacular one-handed grab in first quarter. Brown was the star of the day for the Flames, collecting 271 total yards and two touchdowns. However, the Flames can’t rely solely on Brown to get the job done if they want to get to postseason play. Someone else must step up to provide another weapon in head coach Danny Rocco’s offensive scheme. Grade: B-

Beecher: “They (WVU) were quick laterally. A lot of our running game plan was to get outside the tackles, but they game-planned us well for that. They were quick to get outside and we couldn’t get the lanes we needed.”

Defense — Despite facing one of the top running backs in the nation in Noel Devine, the Flames defense shook off the first half jitters and rebounded with a solid performance in the second half. However, missed tackles proved to be a huge problem for a usually tough defensive unit. With the game tied at 10, WVU converted two third-and-long attempts, the second being a 22-yard touchdown run by quarterback Jarrett Brown, disrupting any momentum the Flames had. Brown was also given plenty of time to throw the ball, which he took advantage of by passing for 243 yards and completing 19 of 26 passes, which led to many big plays as the secondary unit was beat deep on a few occasions. The defense did not force any turnovers, but on the positive side, it did force the Mountaineer offense into four field goals, all of which freshman kicker Tyler Bitancurt converted on. The Flames defense failed to capitalize on many of the third down situations it faced, and had they come up with a few more stops, the ball game might have had a different outcome. Grade: C-

Head coach Danny Rocco: “Defensively, I was disappointed. We’ve played better the last three years. We have outstanding defensive talent. We were just a little short today. We were late, and we didn’t tackle well. We had many opportunities where we were breaking on throws and we had guys in good positions but we weren’t tackling. We are going to have to play better defense if we are going to have a championship-type season.”

Special Teams — Proving that all the hype surrounding Mike Brown is true, Brown did not disappoint in the special teams area. After WVU kicked a field goal on its opening drive, Brown fielded the ensuing kickoff from the Mountaineer four-yard line, maneuvered his way through the special teams unit, and broke out to the 49-yard line, good for a 45-yard return. The Flames offense responded by knocking down a field goal of its own as Matt Bevins nailed a 32-yarder to tie things up at three. With the Flames down 20-10, Brown nearly brought one all the way back for a touchdown, but was tackled at the WVU 42-yard line by kicker Josh Lider and linebacker Ovid Goulbourne. For the day, Brown took three kickoffs for 107 yards, as he and true freshman Aldreakis Allen split time fielding returns. Bevins was perfect on the day as he knocked down both of his field goal attempts, highlighted by a career-best 49-yarder at the 5:01 mark in the third quarter. Grade: A+

Danny Rocco: “I made the decision in February to change our kickoff return. I knew West Virginia would put a lot of time and energy into covering kicks, so we put in a very unique and unusual return scheme that I wanted to open the game with. They were preparing for a sideline return, but I gave them a middle-wedge. Then we were going back and forth.”

Contact Jake Petersen at

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