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2014 Football Opponent Preview: Gardner-Webb
In addition to its position previews and player features, LibertyFlames.com will take a look at each of Liberty's 2014 Big South football opponents during the month of August.
During the opponent series, the website will bring you audio from the head coach of each football program, as LFSN's Nick Pierce had a chance to talk with them during Big South Football Media Day in July.
The series continues today with a look at the Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs, who posted a 7-5 overall record and 2-3 mark in Big South play under first-year head coach Carroll McCray.
McCray, the ninth head coach in Gardner-Webb program history, had his new team off to a hot start in September. The Runnin' Bulldogs were 5-1 following the first full month of the season. The five victories included a 12-10 win over No. 11 Richmond and a 3-0 shutout road win at No. 8 Wofford in a rain-drenched field.
However, Gardner-Webb could not keep up the effort during the middle parts of the year, dropping three out of four games before winning the final two contests to wrap up the season. The second to last victory for Gardner-Webb was a 27-10 win over No. 12 Charleston Southern, giving the Runnin' Bulldogs their third win over a nationally ranked team of the year.
Gardner-Webb returns 22 starters from 2013, which is the most returning starters in the Big South Conference this season.
All-Big South first-team honoree Kenny Cook returns for his final season in Boiling Springs, N.C. The 2014 Walter Payton Award candidate posted the first 1,000-yard receiving season at Gardner-Webb since 1992 (1,008 yards) and finished the year ranked in the top 25 in the country in receptions (76), receiving yards and receiving touchdowns (9).
The Runnin' Bulldogs have a pair of first-team all-conference performers returning on offense in nose guard O.J. Lei'ataua Mau and inside linebacker Tanner Burch. Burch led the team with 107 tackles (47 solo, 60 assisted), while Mau is a 2014 Buck Buchanan Award candidate after having 9.0 tackles for a loss and four sacks in 2013.
Gardner-Webb will travel to Lynchburg on Oct. 25, a place it has not won since 2006. The Runnin' Bulldog will be looking to avenge last year's 24-0 shutout loss at home to the Flames on Oct. 26, which was 22nd shutout in Liberty program history.
Liberty has won seven meetings in a row against Gardner-Webb, with the Runnin' Bulldogs last victory over the Flames coming in a 27-24 setback in Williams Stadium on Oct. 21, 2006.
LibertyFlames.com will continue its Big South opponent preview on Wednesday when the website looks at the Buccaneers of Charleston Southern.