MORGANTOWN, W.Va.– With the Georgia Southern game in the rearview mirror, the West Virginia University football team must now prepare for Liberty.
Head coach Dana Holgorsen isn’t going to write off the Flames just because they are an FCS school.
“Liberty will be a challenge for us,” he said. “They are a good team. It happens every year. If you take them (FCS teams) lightly and don’t respect your opponent then it will come back to get you.
“It happens a lot of times. It seems like it’s at a point where it might happen every week. Last year, they went 9-5. They really got on a run toward the end of the year. I think they won seven of their last nine games. They have everyone coming back on offense.”
Liberty’s offense is expected to be the strength of the squad. The Flames return senior quarterback Josh Woodrum and All-American receiver Darrin Peterson.
“They have an experienced offensive line, and they have two running backs that they have spent time with last year because of an injury,” Holgorsen said. “They are not a spread it out and throw it all over the place outfit. They are going to be multiple with what they do.
“Our defense is preparing for that, and they are excited about preparing for a semi-pro style, normal type of offense as opposed to what they have been prepping for the last few weeks. It will be good to see how they will handle that.”
Liberty lost a lot of defensive players last season, but Holgorsen isn’t disappointed about that.
“Last week, they played a lot of people from new starters to true freshmen,” he said. “They play a lot of people. They are not quite as multiple as they were last year based on inexperience. You never know when that will change.”
Senior defensive end Chima Uzowihe is one player he is worried about on the defensive side of the ball.
“(Uzowihe) No. 52 has about 20 sacks in his career, so he can get to the quarterback,” Holgorsen said. “They are going to test our tackles more so than what was tested last week. I am pretty anxious to see that.”
Saturday’s game could be a battle between two of the best kickers in the country.
WVU sophomore kicker Josh Lambert had a stellar game against Georgia Southern and earned special teams’ player of the week. He was perfect on extra points.
His counterpart from Liberty is also talented.
“The (senior kicker John) Lunsford kid that they have is a First Team All-American,” Holgorsen said. “The dude made a 60-yarder last year. That’s pretty special. He has pro potential. They are going to be in range once they cross midfield, so that’s something to keep your eye on as well.”
The Mountaineers are in good shape this week from a health standpoint.
Holgorsen is hoping his team can improve some things, especially blocking and tackling, this week.
“That is where they are the most exposed,” he said. “It’s where we have a lot of our backups and there is a lot of space. I thought our coverage units were good last week. I thought our blocking was average, but we didn’t have as many opportunities. I think there was five punts, and we had to peter call most of them.
“We didn’t make the best decisions when it came to that, but the blocks fall off when you have to do that. You can’t see them finishing blocks. I don’t have a lot of information on how we finished blocks in the return game.”
Holgorsen doesn’t believe his team will struggle this week after facing Georgia Sothern’s triple-option to a conventional offense.
“We took at least 900 snaps against our defense, he said. “What we do offensively is a lot more similar to Liberty than what Georgia Southern presents. They pose some pro-style challenges with good personnel. They are good up front.”
“They have a great quarterback that can make the throws. They have one great receiver with some quality receivers and running backs as well. That’s kind of what we do, too. We can play a tight end, a back or two backs with a couple of receivers. They present a bunch of different sets, and we will be able to show that to our defense as well.”
Holgorsen is impressed with his secondary this season and believes they are a talented group. He is also happy with Jared Barber’s performance in his first game in almost two years.
“He looks like he is stronger, quicker and more physical,” he said. “That happens to a lot of guys that have knee surgeries if you don’t rush them back.
“Him and (director of strength and conditioning) Mike Joseph were going at it for 14 months. They were neck and neck. He brings a lot to the table. He’s smart. That’s why we call him coach Barber. He’s bigger, faster and stronger than he was two years ago.”
Holgorsen is impressed with his core of young wide receivers.
“Those catches weren’t easy,” he said. “It’s not like they were running scott free, catching it in stride and prancing into the end zone. They were contested catches. It’s exciting for me to watch those two guys make contested catches.”
After three years of disappointment, Holgorsen was excited with sophomore linebacker Marvin Gross Jr.’s performance on Saturday.
“He’s always been able to run,” he said. “He just never knew what direction he was going to run. He was the first one down there on kickoff every time. I think he had his eyes closed half the time, because he ran down there and didn’t know where he was.”
Holgorsen was a little frustrated with the Mountaineers’ run game in the first half, but he thought they did much better later in the game.
“ I have us rushing for about 4.8 yards,” he said. “We had about six explosive run plays, but none over 20 yards. It’s not like we broke one for 70 yards and averaged 4.8 yards a rush.”
Holgorsen is impressed with Wendell Smallwood’s performance so far.
“He is one of our most dynamic guys out there,” he said. “I said that prior to the game. He had six explosive runs. He is an explosive guy. We can use him multiple ways, but we didn’t have to do a whole lot with him this past game. We can. We will keep trying to get him the ball as much as we can.”
Holgorsen doesn’t want to pad his schedule with a bunch of FCS schools, but he realizes these games are often important to the FCS opponents.
“I know it’s good for Liberty to come up here and collect a check that can keep their program a float, he said. “Some of them need it more than others. I don’t think Liberty is one that totally needs it, but there are a lot of them that need it. It’s kind of a shame in that sense.”
While some people were upset by Holgorsen’s statement it was never meant to be a knock at the schools.
“I have a lot of respect for FCS, Division II and Division III schools,” he said. “I made a lot of comments toward that. I think there are a lot of quality coaches out there.”