CONWAY — Breaking from the normal refrains of not looking back and taking one game at a time, the Coastal Carolina football players had a bit of a different tone this week.
They remember what happened last year against Liberty. They remember because of the stunning way that game in Lynchburg, Va., unfolded. And they remember because of who was on the other side of the field.
“I remember the way the loss was last year,” senior center Pat Williams said. “It started out the worst way it could have ever started for a team, and we plan to turn it around this year.”
Liberty led 42-0 late in the second quarter of that pivotal Big South Conference clash on the way to a 63-27 win – an embarrassing effort for a Coastal team that had entered that game 4-1 with legitimate hopes of contending for a league title.
But the Chanticleers are facing a much different Flames team Saturday at Brooks Stadium for homecoming.
Liberty (3-4, 2-0 Big South) has a new coach, new quarterback and, for all intents and purposes, is working on crafting a new identity.
“We are heading the right direction, and we’ll just keep on moving forward,” first-year coach Turner Gill said this week of his team’s progress in that regard.
Gill arrived in Lynchburg this offseason after a dismal tenure at Kansas, where he went 5-19 in two seasons with 10 losses by 30 points or more after signing a lucrative contract to leave Buffalo for Lawrence, Kan.
He replaces Danny Rocco, who helped establish Liberty as one of the Big South’s preeminent powers before leaving for Richmond after last season.
Perhaps more noticeably, though, the Mike Brown era has also ended for the Flames. The standout quarterback who was twice named the conference’s offensive player of the year is gone, and in his place Liberty has finally settled on redshirt-freshman Josh Woodrum as its starting signal-caller.
“I think we’re about to find out where we’re at on the offensive side of the ball,” Gill said. “Three games ago we finally named a starting quarterback in terms of having Josh Woodrum be our guy, and that’s helped [us] to be more consistent in what we need to do. And offensive-line wise, we’re finally coming into the core guys that are going to be the five or six guys that we’re going to play.”
The results to this point have been mixed for the Flames.
They started 0-4 while playing an ACC foe and three ranked FCS teams and then were trailing by 18 points in the second half against a then-winless Gardner-Webb squad before rallying to snap that losing skid. Liberty has now won three straight, but after a 56-7 romp of Big South opponent Presbyterian, it needed a close 21-13 win to get past Division II Concord last week.
Still, CCU coach Joe Moglia says he’s impressed.
“The wins that they’ve had over the span of the last three weeks have been reasonably impressive wins,” Moglia said. “Now you could take a look at the Concord victory and say, ‘Well, gee, that’s a Division II team and the score was reasonably close,’ and that would be accurate. But when you look at the statistics, they gained something like 450 yards (406) and held Concord to like 170 (177). They probably should have won that game by literally four or five touchdowns.”
And while Woodrum isn’t the game-changing force that Brown was the last few years, Moglia likes what he’s seen from the rookie – who has completed 73.5 percent of his passes for 1,359 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions in five starts and seven games overall.
“Don’t be misled by the fact that this kid is a [redshirt]-freshman,” Moglia said. “His statistics are outstanding.”
In regard to statistics, Liberty also has the Big South’s best defense (306.9 yards allowed per game) and a capable ground attack with two of the league’s top three rushers in junior Aldreakis Allen (655 yards) and senior Sirchauncey Holloway (536).
Coastal (3-4, 1-1), meanwhile, snapped its own four-game losing streak last week with a thoroughly dominant 34-7 win at VMI. But if the Chants want to be in contention for the league title, they have no margin for error left.
Not that motivation will be lacking this week.
“It fires me up a lot. It makes me want to go out there and give it everything I’ve got,” senior defensive end Quinton Davis said, thinking back to the last meeting with the Flames. “I’m not saying I don’t do that versus any other team, but it’s always been this thing about Liberty and Coastal.”
Said Williams, “It goes with all the Coastal athletics – basketball, baseball, soccer – whenever you play Liberty, it’s a big game, and this is the one you want. This is the one you want.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.