The Liberty Flames will be looking for their third win of the year against ACC opponents as they will hit the road to Raleigh to take on the NC State Wolfpack on Saturday night. These two schools have only met on one previous occasion back in 2011, with NC State winning 43-21.
The Flames' offense had a huge day last Saturday at Williams Stadium when Liberty (8-0) put up a season-high 633 total yards and blew out FCS member Western Carolina 58-14. Malik Wills completed 14 of 19 passes for 306 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions. Willis also used his legs effectively as he rushed for 97 yards and two rushing touchdowns. The defense took care of business by limiting the Catamounts to 282 yards of total offense while collecting four sacks and forced three turnovers. They will need a similar effort with the sacks and turnovers in order to pull off another ACC road win on Saturday.
NC State (5-3), meanwhile, cruised to their fifth win of the season on Saturday night in a 38-22 effort against Florida State. The Wolfpack were balanced on offense as they ran the ball 39 times and threw it 34 times and gained 413 total yards. Bailey Hockman completed an efficient 24 of 34 passes for 265 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception. Zonovan "Bam" Knight chipped in 94 rushing yards on 17 carries and a touchdown. Isaiah Moore was a difference-maker on defense with 11 tackles and Payton Wilson added 10 stops as NC State did a great job of causing havoc and getting off the field on third down. Third down was a huge difference-maker in this game too; the Wolfpack converted 10 of 15 opportunities on offense while limiting the Seminoles to just three of 14 third-down conversions.
Liberty at NC State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov 21 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: NC State -3.5
When Liberty Has the Ball
Head coach High Freeze is going to attack the Wolfpack from every angle this week with what is at stake for him and the program. Willis will likely take a couple of deep shots early to DJ Stubbs to test the NC State secondary. This would accomplish three things for the Flames. First, it would loosen up the Wolfpack defense, and secondly, it will take the limited crowd out of the game. The third thing is it will be giving the offense some extra confidence right away by proving they can move the football well against another quality ACC opponent.
Getting the ground game going will be another added plus for Liberty this week, and that will be Willis' responsibility to get out on the edge on designed quarterback runs. Joshua Mack will also play a big role in the running game as the team's second-leading rusher with 544 yards and three touchdowns on 5.2 yards per carry. Keep an eye on the offensive line as well since it will need to come out of the blocks on fire and control the line of scrimmage right away.
When NC State Has the Ball
Knight is going to be a vital factor on Saturday because the Wolfpack will need to run the football effectively against the Flames. The sophomore is having another strong campaign, with 545 yards and five touchdowns on 5.5 yards per carry. Hockman needs to take what the Liberty defense gives him in the passing game and not give away possessions by turning the football over or failing to finish drives in the red zone with touchdowns.
Thayer Thomas caught 11 passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns last week against Florida State. Thomas will be able to take a ton of pressure off of Hockman if he can replicate that type of performance on Saturday night. Third-down efficiency will be the Wolfpack's best friend on Saturday night. They converted 10 of 15 opportunities on third down last week against the Seminoles. If NC State can replicate those numbers on Saturday, then you can expect to see them score at least 30 points this week.
The over/under of 67 should be in danger this week because it will be very difficult to see either defense slowing down the opposition. Freeze has plenty at stake with the speculation about him and the South Carolina job that's open after the Gamecocks moved on from Will Muschamp. If Freeze can rack up another signature road win against an ACC team, it will only increase his stock heading into the upcoming coaching carousel.
On the other hand, coaching rumors like this could end up distracting him and then affecting Liberty's on-field performance. The Wolfpack have done a nice job of getting to 5-3 under head coach Dave Doeren in the midst of this crazy 2020 season and won't be intimidated by the Flames' explosive offense. Look for NC State to outlast Liberty in this game as they will come up with a couple of big defensive plays late to hang on for their sixth win of the season.
Prediction: NC State 41, Liberty 33
Podcast: Week 12 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Parler @Scottwhittum.
(Top photo courtesy of @LibertyFootball)