Sep 5, 2006

Liberty’s Jennings, the new “Bus,” carries offense

by David Thompson

The fans flooded into the seats Thursday night to see Danny Rocco’s head coaching debut and Liberty’s home opener, but so did the wind and rain.

Even so, the majority of the crowd stayed through the adverse weather, even after halftime. The 8,546 fans that packed Liberty’s new and improved Williams Stadium came expecting, in the words of Athletic Director Jeff Barber, a “completely new experience” from Liberty Football.

They were not disappointed. The Flames withstood the nasty weather and manhandled the visiting Tigers from St. Paul’s college in Lawrenceville, Va., giving the Flames their first win in the past 11 games by a score of 27-0 and giving Liberty its first shutout victory since 2000.

Perhaps most impressive was the performance by Liberty’s defense, which might as well have been a brick wall as far as the Tigers were concerned. St. Paul’s punted the ball eight times in all and was unable to even come within the range needed to attempt a field goal.

“You can play a lot of games and not get a shutout…Coach Clark did a great job with the defense,” Rocco said. On more than 40 offensive plays in all, St. Paul’s netted only 57 yards and in any of their drives the ball never crossed their own 40-yard line.

“I figured [Liberty] to be tough, but not quite that tough. It was a very good group,” said St. Paul’s head coach Willard Bailey. The defensive performance also accounted for two of the Flames’ points over the course of the game with a sack in the end zone for a safety.

The offense put up a strong showing as well, backing the defense with an impressive running game that featured Pittsburgh transfer Rashad Jennings rushing for 160 yards on 25 carries.

“It felt good being back in a home atmosphere,” said Jennings, who grew up in the Lynchburg area and attended high school at Lynchburg Christian Academy.

“He’s a workhorse…he’s talented, he can also catch the ball,” said Rocco.

The steady wind and rain effectively shut down the passing game from both sides of the field, as the teams went a combined 7 for 27 passing, netting only 69 yards.

 

“It was stiff out there, it was wet, it was blowing,” said Rocco. “We became a little bit one-dimensional. I think that kept our point total down.”

Perhaps most disappointing for Liberty was the effect that the wind had on the kicking game.

“I hope that was the factor,” Rocco said. “That’s something we’re going to address in detail tomorrow.”

Liberty missed one field goal after pressing to the St. Paul’s nine-yard line, missed one point-after-touchdown attempt, and had one PAT blocked.

A missed 37-yarder in the fourth quarter was nullified on a penalty and the resulting 32-yard attempt was good, giving Liberty its final score of 27.

Rocco, as has been typical of him, credits the students with generating the environment needed to put on a good show.

The “Fire Drill” planned for Wednesday night, which was rained out, was supposed to bring an excitement to the student body. On Thursday night they proved they did not need any planned activities to generate enthusiasm.

“They created an atmosphere the way college football is supposed to be… It’s the pageantry of it, it’s the fans, it’s the excitement of it, and they didn’t disappoint,” said Rocco.

In all, it was a satisfying performance by the revamped football squad and a crowd-pleasing one at that.

This was just the kind of game that Rocco and Barber needed to boost the students’ morale and generate excitement for the upcoming season. 

“A lot of good things are happening here,” said Rocco. Judging by the appearance of Thursday’s game, there are a lot more good things to come.

 

Contact David Thompson at dbthompson@liberty.edu.


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