Lynchburg News & Advance reporter Chris Lang and I exchanged questions and answers this week to share perspectives on No. 1/2-ranked Coastal Carolina's regular-season finale with rival Liberty on Saturday.
The Chanticleers (11-0, 4-0 Big South) are going for the first perfect regular season in program history and looking to claim the conference championship outright, while the Flames (7-4, 3-1) can win a share of the Big South title and secure a playoff berth with a win.
Here are my five questions for Lang, a veteran of the Liberty sports beat, and his insights:
1) What is the general sense for the severity of quarterback Josh Woodrum's injury and his likelihood of playing Saturday?
Lang: There's a lot of information out there, none of which can really be corroborated on the record because Turner Gill won't speak of the details of injuries and Woodrum has been shut down for the week, media wise. The idea that he has some sort of cut that got infected makes some sense at least, just because of the timeline of how the injury went down. He was able to practice Sunday and Tuesday last week and suddenly went out on Thursday. From what I've heard, there isn't any structural damage to a knee or an ankle. Gill loathes, I mean, despises talking about injuries. We're lucky we get anything out of him at all. I don't know if he liked linebacker Nick Sigmon being so forthcoming about the shoulder problems that forced him to miss some time, so he's not letting the player talk. I think if Josh can put pressure on the leg and move, he'll play. But the run has become too much a part of the quarterback scheme at LU for him to play well if he's not mobile. We'll have a more definitive answer on Thursday, I think. But in the name of gamemanship, I wouldn't be surprised at all if Gill says "game-time decision," just to keep the people in Conway guessing.
2) If he can't go, what did Stephon Masha show last week and how much of the offense does he have comfort with at this point?
Lang: Masha looked a little shaky at first, and it didn't help that he was working with a backup center since Greg Ray was suspended a week for a personal foul at the end of the Monmouth game. But you could really see him settle in as the game progressed. Darrin Peterson, especially, made a point to start making individual one-on-one plays to help Masha, and he has a speed burst that Woodrum lacks when he finds a seam on the read option. It sounds like the Flames would be willing to expand the playbook a little bit for him this week if he has to go. I know every backup quarterback says he prepares like he's the starter, but Masha admitted after the game that he needed to do more work in the film room to be ready. I.E., Woodrum had been so dependable that the idea of playing significant minutes didn't seem like a reality. But stuff got real last week, and I think Masha will be prepared better if he has to go Saturday.
3) In general, how optimistic are the Flames and their fans that they can be the team to knock off the top-ranked Chanticleers?
Lang: Honestly, very optimistic. And I don't think that's a knock at Coastal Carolina. Everyone respects what the Chanticleers have done, especially under Joe Moglia. But Liberty had Coastal beat last year at Williams Stadium, holding two different 19-point leads before gacking it away in the fourth quarter. Credit Coastal for some gutsy playcalls and terrific play down the stretch, but in the minds of LU's players, they were one or two plays away from sealing that game. Also, their ability to go on the road and beat Appalachian State the week after losing a double-overtime game to Richmond at home has to be in LU's minds. They know they can bounce back. And App State hasn't lost since, so that win keeps looking better and better.
4) More specifically, how does the secondary matchup against Alex Ross and the Coastal Carolina passing attack?
Lang: Well, Alex seems like a smart cat from talking to him, so I doubt he'll throw it much into safety coverage against Jacob Hagen, who has eight interceptions this season and picked off three passes last week. The cornerbacks have been problematic for Liberty this season, which will happen when you lose an NFL draft pick in Walt Aikens and a guy who nearly made the Dolphins' 53-man in Kevin Fogg. Justin Guillory and Tyrin Holloway are both talented, but they're freshmen, and they've struggled in deep coverage, especially against App State, when both were torched on several occasions. They've gotten better as the season has progressed. I suspect LU will run a defensive scheme against Coastal that will minimize the chance that either is stuck on an island against a receiver. Kenny Scott, the senior, has really improved after having a tough game against Richmond receiver Stephen Barnette.
5) What is the prevailing opinion of Turner Gill and where he has the program now three years into his tenure?
Lang: There's some uneasiness with Gill from what I can sense in the fan base, and a lot of it has to do with Moglia, to be honest. Coastal made an out-of-the-box hire and elevated its program from Big South contender to national-title contender in short order. Meanwhile, Liberty has been stuck in neutral for nearly a decade now, always on the cusp of making the playoffs, never able to win the big game to do so. That CSU loss was brutal, because I think Liberty would have been close to an at-large lock even with a loss to Coastal considering how the bubble has shaken out. A loss Saturday would put LU at 7-5, and with the money the administration is pumping into the program and the realization that all of that pomp and circumstance means little without results, Gill could be in trouble. He has two years left on his contract, and if he's not extended after this year, it's essentially an ultimatum for next year. LU has a brutal schedule in 2015 (West Virginia, Montana, JMU, Georgia State in the non-conference). At the very least, there's a good chance you'll see some coaching staff changes if Liberty loses. LU is not paying top dollar to take steps backward in football.
Thanks to Chris for his insight.
| Ryan Young, firstname.lastname@example.org