Story by Matthew Giffin / Contributing Writer
The Liberty University Flames (5-1) brought the heat against an outclassed but defiant Middle Tennessee State University (2-4, 1-2 Conference USA) on Saturday in Lynchburg, Virginia, with a final score of 41-13.
The Flames’ offense ran up and down the field almost without interruption, led by Joshua Mack with 91 rushing yards and Malik Willis with 80. Willis, Liberty’s starting quarterback and a dark horse pick for the Heisman Trophy, also threw for 222 yards and had three touchdowns out of the Flames’ five that afternoon.
During the postgame press conference, the Blue Raiders’ DQ Thomas and Gregory Grate admitted to Willis’s ability as a quarterback and the difficulty of containing him during the game. “He’s pretty slippery,” Thomas said. “Good body control, good pocket presence. He’s just able to make good plays, y’know, on the run.”
However, the Flames got more than they bargained for from the MTSU defense. Wills tossed three balls into Blue Raider hands, his first interceptions of the season. The Raiders had three sacks against Willis and held him to completing 17 out of 30 pass attempts. Sophomore and Hutchinson Community College transfer Jurriente Davis led with 14 tackles.
Chase Cunningham and Jimmy Marshall gave an effort on the other side of the ball for Middle Tennessee, connecting for a touchdown and 77 yards and leading the Raiders in receiving. But outside of a touchdown pass to Jarrin Pierce in the third quarter, MTSU didn’t have much to write home about. The Flames forced a safety to score in the third quarter. After the Raiders’ first interception of the game in the first quarter, Cunningham threw the ball back to Liberty on the following play to waste the possession. Cunningham completed only 22 out of 42 passes on the night and suffered three sacks. Middle Tennessee totaled for a futile 35 rushing yards, averaging 1.7 yards per carry.
“I said it coming into this week that I thought this was the best team we played this year, and they proved it,” Blue Raider head coach Rick Stockstill said after the game.
When asked if there were any adjustments his team could have made that would have changed the game’s outcome, Stockstill said, “We did. They just whipped us, but we did change… They were tougher than us up front. They dominated us.”
Despite the frustrating loss, the Blue Raiders managed to give an air of confidence. Stockstill said, “I still believe in this team… We didn’t get it done tonight, that’s disappointing… But this second half [of the season], it’s on.”
Marshall, MTSU’s leader in receiving yards, expressed his confidence in himself and Cunningham: “I feel like any team we come across, nobody’s gonna be able to stop us.”
The Blue Raiders will take a bye week to rest up before heading to the University of Connecticut (0-7) to resume in-conference play on Friday, October 22. Kickoff is at 5:00pm, and the game will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network