No. 21 Liberty seeks ACC sweep at NC State
No. 21 Liberty will take a crack at an Atlantic Coast Conference sweep on Saturday night when it meets North Carolina State at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh.
Liberty (8-0), which is off to its best start in program history, already has defeated ACC members Syracuse and Virginia Tech.
“I told somebody I’m afraid that our people will expect us to win every ACC game we ever play now,” Liberty coach Hugh Freeze said. “That’s not real realistic, I don’t think. We’ll keep taking them as they come.”
Now comes another one for the Flames, who’ve been dazzling behind quarterback Malik Willis, who transferred from Auburn and sat out the 2019 season before making highlights this season.
Willis has thrown for 15 touchdowns with just one interception. He also has a team-high 700 rushing yards and nine of the team’s 20 rushing touchdowns.
“Obviously this whole thing is going to be about being able to get Willis off track because nobody has been able to do that,” NC State coach Dave Doeren said.
Willis has been effective even with the Flames without a full stable of receivers because of injuries.
Defeating Virginia Tech, 38-35, on the road two weeks ago on Alex Barbir’s last-second, 51-yard field goal provided another chapter in the storybook season.
“How long that lasts, I don’t know, but we’re going to have great memories from this year from what’s been done to this point,” Freeze said.
Liberty, with three games remaining, holds a 10-game winning streak, one shy of the school record set from Oct. 20, 2007, to Oct. 11, 2008.
“They’re playing for a coach that knows how to win games,” said Doeren, whose team has lost three of four games against ranked teams this season, said. “It’s going to be a very confident group, and it’s going to be a group that wants to prove themselves and an opportunity for them to do it on a bigger stage.”
The Flames, who produced 633 yards of total offense in last week’s 58-14 demolition of Football Championship Subdivision member Western Carolina, has scored at least 30 points in every game except during a 28-7 victory against North Alabama on Oct. 3.
Now, Liberty might be a targeted team. Freeze said it’s important to stay the course.
“Just don’t change. Don’t change anything,” he said. “Remember why you’re having the success.”
NC State (5-3) snapped a two-game losing streak with last week’s 38-22 victory against visiting Florida State.
Bailey Hockman, who was in his second game as the starter since returning to that role, had a solid outing for the Wolfpack.
“Anytime your quarterback is playing well, I don’t care what level of football you’re playing, you’ve got a chance to be really good,” Doeren said. “He’s played at a high level for two weeks, so we’re very excited.”
Part of Hockman’s success was related to redshirt junior receiver Thayer Thomas’ career-high 11 catches and 135 yards. He also scored twice.
“I feel like this year I’ve had a lot of different opportunities, and I feel like I’ve made the most of every opportunity I’ve been given, regardless of the circumstances,” Thomas said.
–Field Level Media