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Rocco Weekly Review Prepares Fans for Big South Showdown with Gardner-Webb
LibertyFlames.com had a chance to speak with head coach Danny Rocco just after the conclusion of Thursday's practice at William Stadium, the team's final tune-up before taking on Gardner-Webb, this Saturday, in Boiling Springs, N.C., where the Big South title will be on the line.
Winners of four straight, Liberty enters Saturday's game on an offensive roll unlike any other in program history. The Flames rolled up 73 points on VMI last weekend, the second most points scored in program history and the highest against a conference foe since league action opened in 2002. Liberty has won five out of its last six games, giving the Flames a 7-3 overall record.
Gardner-Webb dropped a three-point decision, 17-14, late to Coastal Carolina last weekend, to even the Bulldogs' record to 5-5 on the year and 2-1 in Big South play. Prior to the setback against the Chanticleers, Gardner-Webb had won three-straight including a 66-0 shutout win over Savannah State.
The Liberty against Gardner-Webb match-up has been of the more competitive over the last several years among Big South programs. Liberty's previous 13 games against Gardner-Webb have been decided by an average of less than nine points, including a 7.2 average spread since Big South play started in 2002.
Breaking Down the Bulldogs
Gardner-Webb is fresh of a stinging loss to three-time defending Big South champion Coastal Carolina. The Bulldogs held a 14-3 late in the third quarter; however, Big South Preseason Offensive Player of the Year Jerome Simpson caught two touchdown passes during the final 20 minutes of play to rob the Bulldogs of a road victory, handing Gardner-Webb its first lost of the year.
Much like its opponent from last week, Gardner-Webb has faced one of the most daunting schedules in program history. The Bulldogs have squared off against the likes of FBS opponents Ohio and Mississippi State and ranked FCS programs Appalachian State and Wofford. Gardner-Webb has posted a 5-5 record against the challenging slate, and a 2-1 record in league play.
The Bulldogs are one of the stingiest defenses in the league, having allowed an average of 21.3 points per game during their first three league games.
Overall, Gardner-Webb leads the Big South in total defense, allowing and average of 332.6 total offensive yards. The Bulldogs currently rank No. 34 nationally behind the previous defensive number.
Gardner-Webb has two of the top three tacklers in the Big South in linebackers Jeffery Williams (10.3 average tackles per game) and Mario Brown (9.2 average tackles per game). Big South Preseason Defensive Player of the Year Brian Johnston leads all league defensive ends by averaging 6.7 tackles per game.