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West Virginia Looks To Build Off Last Week's Win When Liberty Comes To Town

The Mountaineers kicked off their 2015 campaign with an electrifying shut out of the Georgia Southern Eagles. The final score was 44-0. Their next opponent the Liberty University Flames put up 32 points on their way to a season opening win against Delaware State last week. The two will meet at Milan Puskar Stadium this weekend as they race to a 2-0 start or 1-1 drop.

Shelton Gibson after his first career touchdown catch
Shelton Gibson after his first career touchdown catch
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

West Virginia University fans are enjoying the warm weather and non-conference schedule with confidence especially after rolling to a 1-0 start last leek. This week many could say the task gets easier as the Mountaineers get a home crowd, heavy momentum, and the biggest factor being an FCS opponent. The Liberty University Flames come to Morgantown hot off of a win of their own looking to capitalize on a huge game in an even bigger environment.

The momentum for each team is there but the mindset in that momentum is very different.

The Flames have something to prove. A win last week for Liberty was over a team struggling in FCS play and add to that fact: Liberty only scored 32 points while giving up 13. They aim to prove last week's win was not as close as it appeared and that they can hang with the top conferences in the country.

For West Virginia, it's about keeping the party going. A 44 point shutout over the 2014 Sunbelt champions in Georgia Southern has come and gone but the goal remains the same until the heavy portion of their schedule starts. Experiment, learn, and defend. The Mountaineer offense aims to see what will and will not work in a game like this with a still fairly raw offense, while the defense gets repetition at different looks in game situations. A win is not only another chance to be undefeated but to form an identity heading into the off-week before Maryland.

West Virginia's Best Case

Offensively West Virginia potentially found out in week 1 who its next dynamic duo is. Shelton Gibson and Jovon Durante became the first twosome of players in school history to have 100 yard receiving performances in their debuts as starters. Consistency in those type of performances will be looked for on Saturday. Even if the Mountaineers do not find it, they have a plethora of wide receivers capable of catching the ball. Five different offensive players recorded a statistic for receptions last week and quarterback Skyler Howard was responsible for them all. He threw for 359 yards passing and a couple of touchdown tosses. This is only half of the offensive strength and key to a victory.

The rushing game is very relevant to a Mountaineer win as they face a Liberty defense who is stout in their run defense. They need to keep Liberty's Chima Izowihe out of the backfield. He's already picked up 2.5 sacks this year. West Virginia is coming of a week in which the offensive line bulldozed their way to both Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood averaging well over 4 yards a carry. Smallwood averaged 8.7.

Defensively the plan is simple: STOP THE RUN. The Flames' Desmond Rice is averaging 6.9 yards a carry and ran for 139 yards last week. Lets not forget his 2 touchdowns either. West Virginia only allowed Georgia Southern 3.4 yards a carry last week and will need the same caliber performance in the trenches to secure a win. The Liberty pass game struggled last week while the Mountaineer secondary thrived while picking up 4 interceptions. They need to continue on that success and own the night. Daryl Worley will need to hold his own against the talented senior wide receiver Darrin Peterson.

Best Case Prediction?

Liberty gave up too many passing yards against an inexperienced quarterback last week to hang with West Virginia's air raid offense. The Mountaineers get off to a great start passing the ball. Skyler Howard can't miss with his receivers which creates space in the box leading to the faster Wendell Smallwood finding easy lanes through draws and dives right up the middle. Shelton Gibson has another 100 yard performance and gets help from Jordan Thompson who proves he can be the inside go to guy in this game. The defense outright stonewalls the Flames' offensive drives. The Liberty run game can't see past Nick Kwiatkoski, K.J. Dillon, and Eric Kinsey. In an attempt to over compensate for that, quarterback Josh Woodrum adds to the Mountaineer interception total this time coming from Darryl Worley with 2. The Mountaineers exceed expectations.

WVU 76
LU 0

Liberty's Best Case

Tempo and a fast paced run game could be Liberty's best option. At running back, Desmond Rice needs to show up at his greatest capacity and pro-long drives if not break a couple long runs. The offensive line needs to create fatigue for the West Virginia defense and control time of possession. They are going up against a defense who has shown in 2015 they can win at every outlet for defending so this may prove to be a difficult task for them.

Once that tempo and fatigue is created they must take chances and go for the big play. The Liberty Flames are an FCS team who just cannot go blow for blow and play for play with WVU. Big plays will allow them to have opportunities at points on drives that could be otherwise stalled.

They will need every bit of the 6-2, 190 pound Darrin Peterson, a special player who has over 2,000 career receiving yards. It is imperative his quarterback Josh Woodrum improves on his 188 passing yards from last week not by being flashy but by taking care of the football and being consistent until he may have to take risks.

Defensively the Flames will have to get defensive end Chima Izowihe in the backfield and fast. That kind of pressure will force WVU into throwing the short quicker routes and allow the much faster but small cornerback Wesley Scott to break on those routes. Scott stands at 5-10, 175 pounds meaning he's much smaller than both Mountaineer stand out receivers Shelton Gibson and Jovon Durante who stands at 6-1. Linebacker Dexter Robbins will need to join in on both pass and run defense as well.

Best Case Prediction?

Darrin Peterson beats Daryl Worley on a secondary miscommunication for 6 and Desmond Rice scores from the 2 with three ticks left on the first half clock. Liberty manages to get on the board during the second quarter and in fact twice but at that point the West Virginia Offense has already accelerated way too fast for the flames to catch up. The score is 34-14 by the time the Flames score their second and final touchdown. Chima Izowihe is allowed one sack against William Crest and West Virginia's second team offense late in the game. Other than that Skyler Howard uses Wendell Smallwood in a multitude of ways and leads the way for another big day from Shelton Gibson. The Flames just do not have the offensive power and defensive presence to compete with this years Mountaineers. They fall.

WVU 48
LU 14

Bottom Line

This game will not be close. Liberty does not have the personnel defensively to match up with West Virginia, effectively stopping them on key drives to turn the tide of the game. They return only 5 defensive starters and Chima Izowihe cannot do it alone. West Virginia will cruise at home and take about 650 total yards of offense with them. Offensively LU will see something too fast and strong from the usual not to mention the hostile Morgantown environment.

Saturday's game will kick off at 3 p.m. and will be televised locally on ROOT Sports. Rob King, Dan Potash and former Mountaineer quarterback Marc Bulger will be in the booth to describe the action.

The Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG's coverage will begin with the Mountaineer Tailgate Show at 11:30 leading into the game coverage at 2:30 with veteran play-by-play voice Tony Caridi, analyst Dwight Wallace and sideline reporter Jed Drenning. -