The West Virginia Mountaineers enter Saturday with confidence after shutting out Georgia Southern a week before. The Liberty Flames will enter Morgantown with a victory over Delaware State and ranked No. 13 in the FCS Coaches Poll. Both offenses showed well last weekend with Liberty accumulating 417 total yards, while the Mountaineers plied up 544.
This will only be the second meeting between the two schools. The Mountaineers edged the Flames 33-20 to open the 2009 season.
Liberty at West Virginia
Kickoff: 3 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ROOT Sports Pittsburgh
Three Things to Watch
1. Another FCS Top 25 vs. Big 12 Matchup
Week one saw two FCS Top 25 schools face Big 12 opponents in season openers. Current FCS No. 10 South Dakota State upset Kansas in Lawrence 41-38 while No. 4 Sam Houston State racked up 637 total yards in a losing effort to Texas Tech. Liberty will enter Morgantown Saturday afternoon ranked 13th in the FCS Coaches Poll, looking to improve upon that FCS record against the Big 12.
2. Will West Virginia Continue its Defensive Dominance?
The Mountaineers held Georgia Southern to just 224 total yards en route to a 44-0 shutout victory. The West Virginia defense forced five turnovers and only allowed 14 first downs the entire game.
While Liberty poses a different type of offensive threat the Mountaineer secondary is one of the strongest in the country. But Liberty senior quarterback Josh Woodrum is a four-year starter on pace to set every school passing record. The Flames also return junior running back D.J. Abnar, who rushed for 1,289 yards with 15 touchdowns last season.
The Mountaineers have never lost to a FCS opponent and has not lost a non-conference game at home since 2011. West Virginia also has a chance to make history it can keep Liberty off the scoreboard. Another shutout would mark the first time in history a Mountaineer team has opened the season with two such performances.
3. Can the Liberty Defense Hold Against the Mountaineers?
The most immediate threat for the Liberty defense is the Mountaineers' ability to get separation in coverage. Wide receivers Jovon Durante and Shelton Gibson are both extremely fast. Liberty had problems last season against the pass and although the Flames have experience at cornerback, they have yet to prove themselves against the talent level they will face Saturday.
Liberty has had to replace multiple starters on the line. But last week against Delaware State the Flames only allowed 42 yards rushing on 25 attempts, although two of those carries went for touchdowns. The Mountaineers accumulated 185 yards on the ground in their opener against Georgia Southern, doing so on 40 attempts (4.6 ypc). If Liberty's defensive line holds up against the run early, West Virginia may take to the air more.
Liberty runs a very similar defense to that of Georgia Southern. With that said the Mountaineers should be able to take advantage of some mismatches offensively. In particular, the speed of Durante and Gibson should cause problems for the Flames.
Liberty does return seven starters on offense, including their record-setting quarterback and strong backfield. While Liberty should not be considered a pushover neither was Georgia Southern and that game ended in a blowout.
Liberty should be able to stay with West Virginia for at least a short period of time. However, the Mountaineer secondary and linebacker corps doesn’t bend and definitely doesn’t break. Outside speed at the wide receiver position will force the Flames to respect the pass, which will eventually open up the run game for Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood.
Prediction: West Virginia 45, Liberty 21
— Written by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of BlueGoldSports.com, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow BlueGoldSports.com on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.