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2013 Flames Football Opponent Preview: Gardner-Webb
LibertyFlames.com continues its coverage of Flames Football training camp with the fourth in a series of previews of Liberty's 2013 opponents, featuring Gardner-Webb today.
Gardner-Webb is one of two Big South programs under the direction of a first-year coach, as Carroll McCray was named the program's head coach on Jan. 28, 2013.
McCray comes to Boiling Springs, N.C., with a wide array of previous coaching experiences. He has served as an assistant coach at both the FBS (Mississippi State and South Carolina) and FCS (Appalachian State, Furman and Samford) levels.
The 1983 Gardner-Webb graduate also had two head coaching stops before taking the job as the head of the Runnin' Bulldogs program. He served as head coach at Austin Peay for four seasons (2003-06), amassing an 11-33 record, while posting a 5-6 mark as head coach at North Greenville, last year.
McCray will have 21 returning starters coming back, the most of any program in the Big South Conference entering the 2013 season. Nine of 11 starters return on offense and 10 of 11 starters are back on defense.
Gardner-Webb's biggest returning threat offensively will be quarterback Lucas Beatty. The redshirt junior threw for 2,483 yards and 12 touchdowns and led the conference in passing yards, completions (215) and passing yards per game (225.7) in 2012.
Beatty's top three targets from 2012 return for another season – Kenny Cook (666 yards, 7 TDs), Deonte Swinton (467 yards, 0 TDs) and Seth Cranfill (366 yards, 2 TDs).
Gardner-Webb's top loss on the offensive side of the ball is at running back, as the Runnin' Bulldogs are looking to fill the void left by graduated senior Kenny Little, who rushed for a team high 762 yards and seven touchdowns in 2012. Juanne Blount will pick up the bulk of the workload after rushing for 489 yards and six touchdowns last season.
The Runnin' Bulldogs finished near the bottom in the league in 2012 in total defense, allowing the second most yards of any team in the conference (4,732 yards/430.2 per game).
Linebacker Tanner Burch will look to change the team's defensive ranking in 2013. The junior, who is on the FCS College Football Performance Award Preseason Linebackers watch list, finished second in the Big South with 113 tackles and led the league with 12.6 tackles per game.
Liberty's Oct. 26 matchup with Gardner-Webb at Spangler Stadium will be the Flames' first road Big South game of the season and one of only two conference games Liberty plays away from the friendly confines of Williams Stadium in 2013.
Liberty has won the last six meetings with Gardner-Webb, including three straight in Boiling Springs, N.C., by an average margin of 28.7 points per game.