No. 25 Liberty faces Virginia Tech, chasing first 7-0 start
Ranked in just its second season at the FBS level, No. 25 Liberty will try to start a season with seven consecutive wins for the first time when it takes on unranked Virginia Tech on Saturday afternoon at Blacksburg, Virginia.
The Flames (6-0) matched the program’s best start with a 56-35 win at Southern Mississippi on Oct. 24 in their most recent outing, their third win over a Conference USA opponent this season. Liberty will seek its second victory over an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent against the Hokies (4-2).
The Flames also posted wins over Western Kentucky and Florida International of C-USA and knocked off Syracuse of the ACC 38-21 on Oct. 17.
The Flames’ 6-0 start matches similar starts in 1989 and 2008 when they competed as an FCS team. Their current eight-game winning streak going back to last season is their second-longest to the 11-game streak compiled over the 2007-08 seasons.
Liberty coach Hugh Freeze said he knows his Flames will face their toughest test yet in the Hokies, who rebounded from a 23-16 loss at Wake Forest for a 42-35 victory at Louisville last week.
“No one has stopped them yet,” Freeze said. “That will be our challenge — to try to keep them out of the end zone and hold them to field goals.”
Both teams have scintillating quarterbacks. Auburn transfer Malik Willis, who once was recruited by Virginia Tech as a defensive back, has averaged a team-best 99 yards a game rushing with six touchdowns and has passed for about 224 yards a game for Liberty despite missing one game because of an elbow injury.
He accounted for a school-record seven touchdowns — six of them passing — against Southern Mississippi last week.
“He played really well outside of about four or five plays,” Freeze said. “Quarterbacks, when they make mistakes, it is kind of glaring. But when they do well, it’s glaring, too.”
Tech’s Hendon Hooker bounced back from a three-interception day against Wake Forest to complete all 10 of his pass attempts for 183 yards against Louisville. He rushed for 68 yards and three scores.
“That’s what he’s done basically every game he’s played except for one,” Tech coach Justin Fuente said. “He hasn’t won every game as a starter, but he’s played pretty well, with the exception of one game.”
Hooker missed Tech’s first two games because of an undisclosed medical issue and has rushed for 359 yards, second to Khalil Herbert’s 803, and has passed for 653 yards and four touchdowns in four outings.
Both teams have productive running attacks. The Flames have averaged 255.5 yards a game on the ground, the Hokies 290.2, sixth and fourth nationally, respectively.
Freeze considers his Flames underdogs in their second meeting with the Hokies, who won the first 36-13 in 2016.
“They’re bigger, faster, stronger and deeper,” he said of the Hokies. “When you see that in terms of a coach, you know that it’s an uphill climb. Until we get a depth chart that’s similar to theirs, I’ll probably always feel that way.”
He is not conceding a loss, however.
“You can always find a way to win some of those games,” he said.
–Field Level Media