Sep 29, 2009

Making the Grade: Cs across the board

by Axel Cerny

The classroom just went from chatter and note-passing to a complete silence, minus the one kid trying to score points with the teacher by putting his finger to his lips and looking around at everyone with a loud “Shhhh!” All this because of two words from the teacher that hold a very special meaning here in the Champion Sports section, “Report cards.”

A few weeks ago, we graded Liberty’s effort against one of the stronger football programs in the nation, the West Virginia Mountaineers. Grades are out again, this time following another tough loss as Liberty fell to the Dukes of James Madison at Williams Stadium on a very wet Saturday evening. James Madison came into Lynchburg ranked sixth in the nation, while Liberty had just slid their way into the number 24 spot in the top 25 rankings.

The game was tight most of the way through, as Liberty got strong support from 15,532 fans, who apparently were not afraid to get a little wet. As the clock kept ticking, the rain kept getting harder.

With a downpour like Saturday night’s, it was not surprising that turnovers played a big factor in the contest, and in the end the Flames allowed one too many. As they marched late in the fourth quarter to even the game back up, quarterback Tommy Beecher dropped back and threw his second pick of the day across the middle of the field to essentially seal the game for the Dukes.

Though some positives can be found from playing tight with the No. 6 team in the country, this report card is probably one you might hide from your mom, because Liberty could have stolen this victory from James Madison. Take a look.

Yeah, yeah, I hear you saying, “the grades are all so similar,” but this reflects an overall C effort, and in true report card fashion, most students’ grades are similar.

Mike Brown’s first kickoff return was not lackluster, but I honestly thought he might break something longer in the dismal conditions. However, a returner can only take what the blockers give.

The kick and punt coverage cannot be dogged too much, though. They did not give up anything huge in tough tackling conditions, and I give punter Mike Larsson a little higher grade for placing three balls inside the 20.

C is average right? Well, that might even be an overstatement, but I am sticking by it. It was clear before kickoff that it was going to be a rushing battle with the given weather conditions. It is just never effective to go through the air when it is pouring down rain. Many probably would have said whoever wins the ground game will walk away with a victory, and the Flames definitely did not show up on the ground.

On 34 attempts, Liberty averaged 2.8 yards per carry. They also were held under 100 yards rushing for the fifth game under the Rocco regime. Sure, Beecher gained more through the air than the Dukes, and the Flames did a more effective job of mixing in the occasional pass to keep JMU on its toes. However, there is going to be no smiley face sticker posted next to the offensive section of the report card.

Almost gave them a low B. Of course, you have to give them credit for giving the team a chance to win, but giving up 301 yards on the ground on 50 carries is below average.
In the same tone as the offense, this game was tailored for the run. Early on, however, I thought the Liberty defense might be ready to bend but not break against the JMU run as they managed to only give up the field goal on the Dukes opening drive, in which they ran the ball on 11 consecutive plays. As the rain kept falling and JMU continued to rush, the Liberty line broke down eventually, and the Dukes broke for a few big runs that put them in the lead.

The defense did have two important sacks and two interceptions, especially Donald Mann’s touchdown saving pick right before the half to keep Liberty only down three. JMU matched those totals, and with the harsh weather conditions, Liberty needed to win that turnover battle. No forced fumbles in such slick conditions was surprising.

Contact Axel Cerny at

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