When NC State scheduled No. 21 Liberty as its lone nonconference game of the season, it did not know what it was getting itself into. The Flames (8-0) come into Carter-Finley Saturday undefeated with two wins against ACC opponents: Syracuse and in-state opponent Virginia Tech. Alongside fellow independent school BYU, Liberty is one of two 8-0 teams in the country.
Liberty comes into this game with a prolific offense that averages 40.5 points a game. Slowing down the Hugh Freeze-led team will be a challenge for the Wolfpack (5-3, 5-3 ACC), something that no team has been able to do to this point yet.
On offense for the Flames it's plain and simple: It’s the Malik Willis show. The transfer from Auburn has been lights out for Liberty as a dual-threat quarterback. He has thrown for 1,645 yards with 15 touchdowns to only one interception. With jets for legs, he has run for 700 yards and another nine touchdowns.
His elusiveness in the pocket and outside of it makes him such a tough matchup for defenses. His incredible numbers to start the season has him in special company.
Malik Willis is the fifth player to have 15+ passing touchdowns, 9+ rushing touchdowns and 700+ rushing yards through his team’s first eight games of the season, since 2000.Johnny Manziel (2012)Dak Prescott (2014)Lamar Jackson (2016/17)Jalen Hurts (2019)Malik Willis (2020) pic.twitter.com/tr9R6aMRmg— Kevin Keneely (@KevinKeneely1) November 16, 2020
Willis’ style of play is very similar to Miami’s D’Eriq King, a quarterback that went off against the Wolfpack two weeks ago for 430 yards and five touchdowns through the air and 105 yards on the ground. It's safe to say if the NC State defense uses the same schemes against Willis, he could put up similar numbers.
Liberty running backs
Similar to NC State, Liberty has three different running backs that have made impacts this season. Leading the way are Joshua Mack with 534 yards on the ground and Shedro Louis with 427 yards. Each of these players have three touchdowns on the season.
With the threat of Willis in the read option, teams will often key in on him, giving Mack and Louis opportunities to get big yardage.
Being the third player of the running back trio, Troy Henderson is a popular choice for Hugh Freeze’s offense around the red zone. He leads the group with five touchdowns.
Wide receivers and tight ends for the Flames must be loving this fast-paced Liberty offense. Liberty has weapons up and down its depth chart, with four guys who have at least three touchdowns, sharing the wealth. It also has four guys with over 200 yards receiving on the season.
However, NC State defensive backs will need to key in on DJ Stubbs the most as he is Willis’s favorite target. He has hauled in 399 yards receiving with three touchdown catches, including this one-handed one earlier this season against Florida International.
Kevin Shaa is another name NC State defensive coordinator Tony Gibson will keep a close eye on this week when preparing for Liberty. Shaa is second on the team in receiving with 368 yards.
Liberty offensive line
The Flames have given up 17 sacks this year for a loss of 98 yards. In the trenches, a trio of seniors lead the way for Liberty. Tristan Schultz, Damian Bounds and Thomas Sargeant will look to give Willis as much time as possible to do his thing and come out of Raleigh with another program defining victory.
The matchup between the Wolfpack and the Flames is scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff on Nov. 21 at Carter-Finley Stadium. Regional sports networks will televise the game, and to keep up with live updates on Twitter, follow @TechSports.