Flames topple Gardner-Webb, 24-0
Gardner-Webb head football coach Carroll McCray called it the "typewriter effect."
And the numbers certainly reflect it.
Five sacks and a lackluster offensive performance by the Runnin' Bulldogs helped Liberty to a 24-0 win at Spangler Stadium Saturday afternoon. It was the first time since 1985 Gardner-Webb had been shut out twice in the same season and first time since 2007 they had been shut out at home when they lost 31-0 to Liberty.
"It's just one person here, one person there … peck, peck, peck," McCray said.
Gardner-Webb (4-4, 0-2 Big South) had little success on offense, stumbling to minus-19 yards on the ground in the first half and just 30 yards for the game.
The defense had its share of struggles early as the Flames (4-4, 1-1 Big South) scored twice in a span of three minutes in the second quarter.
Running back Desmond Rice hit Darrin Peterson on a 33-yard touchdown after quarterback Josh Woodrum rushed from three yards out to give the Flames a 14-0 halftime lead.
The Runnin' Bulldogs showed promise on their first play from scrimmage after quarterback Lucas Beatty found tight end Seth Cranfill for a 31-yard reception, but it went downhill fast from there. In fact, it was the only positive in a first quarter that had Gardner-Webb with just 56 yards of total offense.
"Their D-line gave us problems up front," Beatty said. "It wasn't anything we didn't expect."
What they might not have expected was the running game being as ineffective as it was.
Just after GWU crossed midfield for the first time in the game — midway through the second quarter — the running game was stuffed after Juanne Blount was held for no gain on 4-and-1.
Both of Liberty's scoring drives in the first half were thanks in large part to a short field. The first scoring drive was only 55 yards while the second was 65 yards.
A big reason for that was the ineffectiveness of the offense to handle reading the Liberty blitz.
"When you don't handle it early, you get a good dose of it," McCray said.
The second half didn't fare much better for Gardner-Webb. In fact, on their first possession of the half, the Runnin' Bulldog offense ran just over a minute off the clock on a three-and-out.
That allowed Liberty to march 37 yards on nine plays before setting up kicker John Lunsford's school-best tying 52-yard field goal.
The Runnin' Bulldog offense had a shot, moving the ball to the Liberty 38 before the running game was halted on third down. Blount was dropped for a 3-yard loss back to the 41, forcing another GWU punt. Earlier in the drive, Blount had a 33-yard rush across midfield.
To that point, the Runnin' Bulldog offense was 0-for-10 on third down conversions.
Liberty mounted another sustained drive to close out the quarter — driving to the GWU 9 on 12 plays. The Flames mixed run and pass as Woodrum connected on three passes for 43 yards. The drive was capped on the first play of the fourth quarter when Woodrum hit tight end Brandon Apon on a 9-yard strike to put the Flames up 24-0.
"Out of their scores, we had major errors on two of them," McCray said. "They made us pay."
Beatty was able to get some offensive momentum to start the fourth quarter by going 4-for-5 for 37 yards during the opening drive. But, back-to-back incompletions forced a turnover on downs at the Flames' 19.
The defense followed up with an interception by Adam Johnson on the next play from scrimmage but it was all for naught after the offense stalled on a sack and incomplete pass at midfield.
Gardner-Webb did do a better job hanging on to the football. In their last two games, six turnovers turned into 37 points.
Against Liberty, the Runnin' Bulldogs had just one fumble lost.
But, in the end, it came down to mental errors and failing to convert on offense.
"I could not tell as much about our physical effort because our mental effort was just not there," McCray said.
Gardner-Webb will now prepare for another home contest next Saturday when they host Wagner (Fla.) who lost their ninth straight following a 37-3 loss to Florida Tech on Saturday.