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Flames Feature: Scouting the Big South Conference

October 15, 2007
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Liberty Wynton Jackson leads the Big South, averaging 15.77 yards per punt return.

Liberty Wynton Jackson leads the Big South, averaging 15.77 yards per punt return.

Following a week off, the Flames football program is set to kick off Big South Conference play this weekend against Charleston Southern. Liberty opens league action on the road at CSU Stadium this Saturday, marking the first time since the league was formed in 2002, Liberty has opened its conference schedule on the road. Game time is set for 1:30 p.m.

After the non-conference half of the season, Liberty stands tied atop the conference standings along with Charleston Southern. Both teams boast of a 3-3 record. The remainder of the league - Coastal Carolina, Gardner-Webb and VMI - all have tallied a 2-4 mark so far this year.

For the first time in program history, Liberty's football team headed into the year as the preseason favorite to win the Big South Conference title. The Flames were named this year's preseason favorite at the annual Big South Football Kickoff Media Luncheon in late July.

Liberty received 12 out of 20 first-place votes from a voting panel which included members of the media, the league's head coaches and sports information directors. The Flames are just the third team to be named preseason favorites in the six years the league has sponsored the sport. Gardner-Webb was the conference's pick in 2002 and 2003, followed by Coastal Carolina's three-year run (2004-06) as the yearly preseason favorite.

What stands between Liberty and the it's goal of winning it's first-ever Big South title – four league games and a match-up with a future conference foe. To help prepare the Flames faithful the remainder of Liberty's schedule, a brief team-by-team breakdown of the Flames' Big South competition appears below.

Charleston Southern (3-3 overall, 0-0 Big South)
Liberty vs. Charleston Southern – Charleston, S.C. – 1:30 p.m. – Oct. 27, 2007
Charleston Southern enters Big South Conference play tied atop the league standings with Liberty in overall record, as both squads have a 3-3 record. The Buccaneers have won two-consecutive games and three out of their last four gridiron match-ups.

Charleston Southern, who also had last weekend off, is fresh off a 28-0 blanking of Savannah State. The Buccaneers rolled up 272 yards on the ground against the Tigers, the most by a CSU team since gaining 397 yards against West Virginia Wesleyan in 2005.

Liberty leads the Big South Conference in scoring, averaging 38.3 points per game. Charleston Southern ranks just behind the Flames, having tallied an average of 27.7 points per game this year. The Buccaneers also ranks second in the conference with 20 touchdowns, placing behind the Flames' 30 TDs.

A key match up in the oldest rivalry in the history of the Big South could be the passing game. Charleston Southern leads the Big South, averaging 238.8 passing yards per game. Liberty ranks last in the league in pass defense. The Flames are surrendering 244.5 average passing yards per contest.

Both squad's defenses have aggressively when the ball is in the air. Liberty and Charleston Southern are tied for the league lead with nine interceptions apiece.

Charleston Southern's quarterback Eli Byrd leads the Big South in passing, averaging 196.3 passing yards per game. The redshirt junior has completed 105-of-188 passes and has thrown a lead-best nine touchdowns.

Charleston Southern's Jada Ross, a preseason Big South all-conference selection at linebacker, leads the Big South Conference in tackles. The redshirt junior is averaging 11.0 stops per contest.

Series Results
Overall Record: Liberty leads, 12-2
Record at Home: Liberty leads, 7-1
Record on Road: Liberty leads, 5-1
In Big South Games: Liberty leads, 4-1
Record under Rocco: Liberty leads, 1-0
Current Streak: Liberty, W1

Year-By-Year Results:
10/30/93 – W - 42-6 - Lynchburg, Va.
11/19/94 – W - 59-27 - Lynchburg, Va.
10/28/95 – W - 19-15 - Charleston, S.C.
10/26/96 – W - 37-7 - Lynchburg, Va.
10/25/97 – W - 48-14 - Charleston, S.C.
10/3/98 – W- 28-21 ! - Lynchburg, Va.
10/23/99 – W - 34-14 - Charleston, S.C.
11/11/00 – L - 0-25 - Lynchburg, Va.
11/10/01 – W - 45-31 - Charleston, S.C.
10/19/02 – W - 31-17 * - Lynchburg, Va.
11/1/03 – W - 17-6 * - Charleston, S.C.
10/30/04 – W - 34-6 * - Lynchburg, Va.
11/12/05 – L - 30-31 * - Charleston, S.C.
11/11/06 – W - 34-20 * - Lynchburg, Va.
* - Big South Conference game
! - Overtime Game

Coastal Carolina (2-4 overall, 0-0 Big South)
Liberty vs. Coastal Carolina – Lynchburg, Va. – 3:30 p.m. – Nov. 3, 2007
Defending Big South champion Coastal Carolina enters the league portion of its schedule with a 2-4 record. The Chanticleers have played a daunting schedule, facing the likes of FCS perennial powerhouses Furman, Georgia Southern and Furman.

Despite the challenging slate, Coastal Carolina still leads the Big South Conference in scoring defense as the Chanticleers are allowing 26.3 points per game. Liberty ranks just behind Coastal Carolina, as the Flames are allowing the second-fewest points at 27.2 points per outing.

Liberty and Coastal also rank first and second in the league in the turnover game. The Flames lead the conference, having posted a +1.00 turnover margin, which ranks No. 19 nationally in the statistically category. The Chanticleers rank second in the Big South, having posted the only other positive turnover margin at +0.33.

Coastal Carolina boasts of the best pass defense in the nation, holding opponents to 73.00 passing yards per game. The figure is even more impressive considering Robert Morris ranks second in the country, averaging 125.57 passing yards per game – a more than 50 yards per game difference between the top two spots.

The Chanticleers' William Richardson ranks third in the Big South among quarterbacks, passing for 165.0 passing yards per game. The redshirt junior has completed 56.2 percent of his pass attempts (82-of-146) for 990 yards and six touchdowns.

2006 Associated Press First-Team All-American Jerome Simpson finished last year with a conference record 1,077 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. However, the senior wide out has been held in check this season, recording 351 yards on 18 receptions and four touchdowns.

Coastal Carolina's top tackler is defensive back Norman Marrio. The junior currently ranks sixth among Big South tacklers by averaging 7.8 stops per game.

Series Results
Overall Record: Coastal Carolina leads, 3-1
Record at Home: Series tied, 1-1
Record on Road: Coastal Carolina leads, 2-0
In Big South Games: Coastal Carolina leads, 3-1
Record under Rocco: Coastal Carolina leads, 1-0
Current Streak: Coastal Carolina, W3

Year-By-Year Results
11/15/03 – W - 38-21 * - Lynchburg, Va.
10/23/04 – L - 6-33 * - Conway, S.C.
10/22/05 – L - 21-27 (3 OT) * - Lynchburg, Va.
10/28/06 – L - 26-28 * - Conway, S.C.
* - Big South Conference game

Gardner-Webb (2-4 overall, 0-0 Big South)
Liberty vs. Gardner-Webb – Boiling Springs, N.C. – 3:30 p.m. – Nov. 17, 2007

Gardner-Webb will be happy to begin Big South play, considering its non-conference slate. The Bulldogs, who have a 2-4 record this year, are coming off games against back-to-back Top 10 FCS opponents in No. 5 Appalachian State (L/ 7-45) and No. 8 Wofford (L/ 17-52). Gardner-Webb has also squared off against two FBS programs in Ohio (L/ 14-36) and Mississippi State (L/ 15-31).

The Bulldogs enter league play ranked last in scoring offense, averaging 16.7 points per game. Conversely, Garnder-Webb is surrendering 30.5 points per outing, which ranks third in the league in scoring defense.

A key match-up in the Nov. 17 contest could be the battle to gain yards on the ground. Liberty enters league play averaging 188.67 rushing yards per game, good enough for No. 31 nationally in the team statistical category. The Bulldogs rank second (to Liberty's 126.8 yards per game average) in rushing defense, as they are allowing an average of 163.8 rushing yards per game.

Gardner-Webb's top offensive threat is Big South all-conference performer Duvaughn Flagler. The wide out finished last year with in 740 receiving yards and seven touchdowns to rank second in the league in both categories. The senior has bettered his numbers during his final season, leading the league with 463 yards and five touchdowns.

Sophomore running back David Montgomery ranks third in the Big South, rushing for 388 yards and two touchdowns. The Bulldogs have split passing duties this year between sophomore Stan Doolittle (75-of-129 for 672 yards) and junior Devin Campbell (53-of-97 for 670 yards).

Punter Michael Hanna leads the way in the conference and ranks No. 12 nationally, as the junior is averaging 42.8 yards per punt. His placekicking counterpart, Nick Ellis, leads the Big South by averaging 1.33 field goals per game.

Linebacker Jeffrey Williams has been a freshman phenom on the defensive front, ranking second in the conference with an average 10.7 tackles per game. Twice named Big South Freshman of the Week, Williams ranks second nationally in total tackles (64) and tackles per game among freshmen defenders.

Big South Preseason Defensive Player of the Year Brian Johnston averaged 9.9 tackles per game last season. This year, the senior defensive end hasn't posted as impressive numbers, ranking No. 13 in the conference by averaging 6.5 tackles per game.

Series Results
Overall Record: Gardner-Webb leads, 8-4-1
Record at Home: Gardner-Webb leads, 4-2
Record on Road: Gardner-Webb leads, 4-1-1
Record at Neutral Locations: Liberty leads, 1-0
In Big South Games: Gardner-Webb leads, 4-1
Record under Rocco: Gardner-Webb leads, 1-0
Current Streak: Gardner-Webb, W2

Year-By-Year Results:
10/2/76 – L - 16-54 - Boiling Springs, N.C.
10/1/77 – L - 7-22 - Lynchburg, Va.
9/30/78 – T- 30-30 - Boiling Springs, N.C.
9/29/79 – W - 29-32 ! - Roanoke, Va.
10/18/80 – W- 15-14 - Boiling Springs, Va.
10/3/81 – L - 9-14 - Lynchburg, Va.
9/16/00 – W - 19-8 - Lynchburg, Va.
10/20/01 – L - 25-29 - Boiling Springs, N.C.
10/5/02 – L - 21-31 * - Lynchburg, Va.
10/11/03 – L - 17-27 * - Boiling Springs, N.C.
10/2/04 – W - 17-9 * - Lynchburg, Va.
10/29/05 – L - 16-21 * - Boiling Springs, N.C.
10/21/06 – L- 24-27 * - Lynchburg, Va.
* - Big South Conference game
! – Forfeit

Presbyterian (4-3 overall)
Liberty vs. Presbyterian – Lynchburg, Va. – 1 p.m. – Oct. 27, 2007

The Blue Hose have already started their "league" slate, rushing for 280 yards en route to a 45-21 victory over VMI last weekend. Presbyterian, who won't officially be eligible for league play until the 2011 season, has posted a 4-3 mark so far during the 2007 campaign.

Presbyterian is riding a three-game winning streak, starting with victories over N.C. Central (W/ 34-27) and North Greenville (W/ 66-52). The program's first victory at the Division I level came against Pikeville on Sept. 8 (W/ 58-7).

The Blue Hose would be leading the Big South Conference in passing, if they were eligible for statistical consideration. Presbyterian is averaging 349.0 passing yards per game, having thrown for 22 touchdowns over seven games (3.1 touchdown passes per game).

A contest with Presbyterian has proven to be an offensive fan's delight. The Blue Hose are averaging 37.6 points per game, while allowing 30.6 points per contest. In three out of seven games, Presbyterian has rolled up 40 or more points. The Blue Hose won an old-fashion shootout against North Greenville, 66-52, a contest which saw the two squads combined for 118 points.

Quarterback Tim Webb has thrown for 1,365 yards and 12 touchdowns, completing an impressive 70.8 percent of his attempts (92-of-130). Back-up hurler Grayson Mullins has kept up with his counterpart, as the fellow junior has thrown for 980 yards and nine touchdowns.

Outside linebacker Chris Bowman leads the Blue Hose's defensive unit. The sophomore is averaging 6.4 tackles per game. Fellow linebacker Antwan Thomas is one of the most aggressive defenders on the squad, leading the team with 6.5 tackles for loss (23 yards), 3.0 sacks (17 yards), two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions with 52 interception return yards.

Series Results
Overall Record: Presbyterian leads, 3-1
Record at Home: Presbyterian leads, 0-2
Record on Road: Series tied, 1-1
Record under Rocco: First Meeting
Current Streak: Presbyterian, W3

Year-By-Year Results
10/30/82 – W - 24-12 - Clinton, S.C.
10/29/83 – L - 9-28 - Lynchburg, Va.
10/27/84 – L - 13-17 - Clinton, S.C.
11/2/85 – L - 0-3 - Lynchburg, Va.

VMI (2-4 overall, 0-0 Big South)
Liberty vs. VMI – Lynchburg, Va. – 1 p.m. – Nov. 10, 2007
Keydet fans have started to see the resurgence of the program under second-year head coach Jim Reid. VMI opened the year with an impressive 20-0 shutout victory over Lock Haven and later picked up a 40-13 road victory at Robert Morris. The two victories doubled VMI's win total of last season.

The Keydets like to keep the ball on the ground most of the game, rushing the ball an average of 85.0 percent of the time. VMI has run the ball 341 times this year and has thrown the ball only 60 times over the first six games.

VMI leads the Big South and ranks No. 6 nationally in rushing yards per game, averaging 283.2 yards per contest. Liberty ranks second in the conference in the statistical category, almost 100 average yards per game behind the Keydets in the category (188.7 rushing yards per game).

The Keydets also lead the Big South in total offensive yards, averaging 380.0 per contest. When VMI does choose to take to the air, the Keydets have been successful, ranking No. 9 in the country with a 160.47 passing efficiency rating.

VMI's potent rushing attack allows the military program to lead the Big South with a 33:34 time of possession advantage per contest.

Sophomore running back Howard Abegesah leads the Big South and ranks No. 29 in the country, averaging 97.8 yards per game. Tim Maypray ranks just behind Liberty's Wynton Jackson (141.7 all-purpose yards per game) in terms of conference all-purpose yards. Maypray is averaging 130.3 all-purpose yards per game, with 177 coming on the ground, 197 via receiving yards and 337 by virtue of kick off return yards.

Defensive back Levi Swindell leads the squad and ranks fourth overall in the Big South, averaging 8.6 tackles per game. Tommy Lloyd has honed in the opposing quarterbacks all year, leading the Big South and ranking No. 22 nationally with 4.5 total sacks on the season.

Series Results
Overall Record: Series tied, 3-3
Record at Home: Series tied, 1-1
Record on Road: Series tied, 2-2
In Big South Games: Liberty leads, 3-2
Record under Rocco: Liberty leads, 1-0
Current Streak: Liberty, W1

Year-By-Year Results
9/9/95 – L - 30-51 - Lexington, Va.
10/26/02 – L- 14-38 * - Lexington, Va.
10/4/03 – W - 31-28 * - Lynchburg, Va.
11/6/04 – W - 38-17 * - Lexington, Va.
10/1/05 – L - 7-10 * - Lynchburg, Va.
11/18/06 – W - 32-28 * - Lexington, Va.
* - Big South Conference game