Just one day after Christmas, one of the most important group-of-five matchups of the 2020 College Football season was set. The #12 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers and the Liberty Flames had one of the most important bowl games of the season outside of the College Football Playoffs. The winner of this game would have a huge favorite over the other high-caliber group of five football programs. This game was projected to be closer than other experts believed but there was reason to believe the Flames would compete at a high-level.
In the first quarter, Liberty took a 14-0 lead as well as survived a serious comeback from the Chanticleers. Earlier in the season, the Flames failed to beat the NC State due to a blocked field goal in their final drive. At the end of this one, the Flames were able to shock the Chanticleers in overtime 37-34 with a blocked field goal.
Malik Willis Comes Out Huge for Liberty
Liberty dual-threat quarterback Malik Willis needed to have his biggest performance of the season to beat Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers had a defense that was ranked within the top 25 in all major categories except rushing defense. Their defense ranked 36th in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game (138.3). Offensive coordinator Kent Austin called a great game for Liberty by utilizing Willis efficiently against the highly reliable defense of the Chanticleers. Willis passed for 220 yards, two interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 115.4 on 19 completions (out of 29 passing attempts). He was even more efficient in the run game. Willis rushed for 137 yards and four touchdowns on 21 carries. The quarterback accounted for 357 of the Chanticleers’ 475 total yards on offense.
The Flames were able to start fast against Coastal Carolina thanks to two rushing touchdowns from Willis. Senior running back Joshua Mack rushed for 105 yards on 14 carries for an average of seven-and-a-half yards per carry. Senior kicker Alex Barbir converted three field goals including a 44-yard field goal in overtime. The offensive line of the Flames faced an aggressive defense of the Chanticleers who were able to crash the backfield. Coastal Carolina accounted for seven tackles for loss against Liberty but only one sack. Willis was highly elusive in avoiding sacks and runs for a loss. The Flames were five-for-11 on third-down conversions as well as six-for-eight in the red zone. The Flames averaged 11.6 yards per completion and just over six per rush.
Liberty’s Defense Holds On to Suppress Coastal Carolina
Liberty knew it was facing one of the efficient offenses in the nation in Coastal Carolina. Its biggest strength was its rushing offense that was ranked 15th in the nation in rushing yards per game (223.2). In the first quarter, the Flames’ defense was highly efficient and able to contain the offense of Coastal Carolina. The Flames held the Chanticleers to 48 total yards including 18 yards on the ground on six carries. Coastal Carolina’s offense had a more significant second quarter, accounting for 181 total yards with 70 on the ground. Liberty’s defense, however, shut down the run game and forced Coastal Carolina to drive the ball through the air. Liberty held the Chanticleers to 77 rushing yards in the second half.
The Flames’ defense was not able to crash into the backfield consistently like the Chanticleers’ defense was able to. Liberty accounted for three tackles for loss and two sacks in the entire game. Chanticleers senior running back C.J. Marable accounted for only 43 yards on seven carries. The Flames’ didn’t need to dominate the RPO game led by freshman dual-threat Grayson McCall as he accounted for 414 total (318 passing yards) and four touchdowns. Liberty’s defense made enough plays to slow down the solid productivity that Coastal Carolina consistently puts up. Flames defensive end TreShaun Clark accounted for five total tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss, and two quarterback hits. Further, defensive tackle Elijah James was the player that blocked the field goal of Coastal Carolina in overtime to clinch the win for Liberty.
Photo by Liberty Athletics/Andrew Snyder. Courtesy of abc13 News.