As Liberty enters Big South Conference play Saturday at Gardner-Webb, the 15th-ranked Flames could be easily mistaken as having an identity crisis.
In the first four games of the season the Flames were a pass-oriented team. Liberty’s offense averaged 15 more pass plays per game than runs. In their 31-21 victory over then No. 8-ranked Montana, the Flames had the largest pass-to-throw ratio of the season. The Flames threw the ball 48 times while they ran just 19 times, a season low.
That all changed last Saturday against Georgia State.
Liberty implemented the option and churned out a season high 260 rush yards while running the ball 49 times, also a season high. Seven different Flames ran the ball. It resulted in a 41-33 win and revitalized a much-needed ground attack. All five Liberty touchdowns were on the ground; four of which came from 1 yard.
According to Flames fourth-year starting quarterback Josh Woodrum, the first four games weren’t a true representation of who the Flames are.
“We are going to run the ball to set up the play action,” Woodrum said. “We are not going to try to emulate the spread (offense). We are a time-of-possession team that (churns out) methodical drives.”
Liberty ran 82 plays against Georgia State, which could be misconstrued for the spread. Liberty head coach Turner Gill wants to get away from that.
“We might not be playing so well when we get into the 80 snap (range),” Gill said. “We are better off if we reduce the number of plays.”
The Flames will face a stout front seven that includes standout nose guard O.J. Mau. Will the option be in the game plan? That depends on how Gardner-Webb’s defense lines up.
“We really hadn’t played a bunch of defenses that gave us a great look to run the option,” said Woodrum, who rushed for a season-high 44 yards last week. “That was why we hadn’t been doing it. Georgia State (though) gave us the look to do it. We just exploited what they gave us.”
There is an exact science to the option. Although Woodrum’s utilized it in just one game, he knowns when to run it based on the defensive formation while looking near flawless executing it against Georgia State.
“West Virginia gave us that look a little bit,” he said. “They would scrap (two defenders) hard off the end so it would be a quick pitch to the running back every time. (Against) Georgia State, we knew they were going to come off the edge hard and take the running back. It was basically a 10-yard run (for me).”
Woodrum needs just 259 passing yards to reach 9,000 for his career. Only one other quarterback in Big South history has eclipsed the 9,000 yard mark. What Woodrum does through the air Saturday could get him in the record book. What he and the Flame running backs do on the ground will most likely determine the outcome.
“Their front seven is as good as any FCS team we’ll face this year,” said Gill. “We can’t allow them to get penetration. The question becomes can we consistently get 4-plus yards a carry?”
Last week when Liberty implemented the option, they got balance in their offensive attack. Woodrum put up 242 yards passing to go along with the Flames 260 yards rushing.
Identity crisis? No. Balance? Yes.
Above: Liberty’s Todd Macon runs in for a score against Georgia State on Oct. 3. (Photo by Ty Hester/Liberty University Athletics)