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Every year, the FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl is significant for the lives of many off the field. It has raised nearly $4 million in its six-year history for cancer research.
This year, the matchup on the field marks the first time that the game will feature a nationally ranked team as #12 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers will face 2019’s Cure Bowl winners, Liberty Flames.
Not only will these two “Group of Five” programs battle to raise money for a cure, a victory should improve the winner’s national ranking at the end of the season. COVID-19 canceled their originally scheduled regular season-ending game between these former Big South Conference members. Each organization is still having arguably the best season in their respective historys’ while hoping to maximize their potential on December 26th.
When looking at the makeup of these squads, they are incredibly similar. Both have a mobile quarterback that has passed for more than 2,000 yards, 20 or more touchdowns and four or fewer interceptions.
Additionally, both defensive fronts feature guys that have at least two players with nine or more tackles for loss. That’s not even including either of these intimidating pass-rushing corps feature at least one non-defensive back with an interception.
Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze acknowledged the similarities between the squads.
“I think there are a lot of similarities to our teams,” said Freeze. “Both our teams play extremely hard on defense and offensively. We both like to control the ball and control the clock and we have dual-threat quarterbacks.”
Chanticleer’s head coach Jamey Chadwell agreed that the two teams have mirrored elements while stating that the Flames won’t be easily extinguished.
“I don’t know if they have many weaknesses,” stated Chadwell. “But if they did, they wouldn’t be 9-1 and a field goal block away from being undefeated playing three ACC teams.”
Liberty’s quarterback, Malik Willis is an impressive talent as a junior transfer from Auburn. Willis has not only accrued 2,040 yards passing with 20 touchdowns and only four interceptions, he’s also his team’s leading rusher with 807 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Taking nothing away from the Flames running backs Joshua Mack and Peyton Picket who themselves combined for nearly 1,200 rushing yards, Coastal Carolina’s defensive line will have to focus on a disciplined pass rush to not only neutralize the air attack but to stop Willis from using his mobility.
That’s not necessarily out of the realm of possibility for Coastal Carolina. Tarron Jackson and Jeffery Gunter combined for 26 tackles for loss with 15 sacks as well as nine forced fumbles in 2020. Even more impressive is nine more tackles for loss each from safety Enock Moakonzo and defensive tackle CJ Brewer.
If the Chanticleers manage to contain Willis running the ball and force him to throw, it will fall to the secondary led by cornerback D’Jordan Strong and safety Alex Spillum. Strong has collected five interceptions while Spillum has three of his own as a ball-hawking safety.
That represents eight of 14 total interceptions for CCU whose secondary makes it difficult on an offense to establish an air attack. With that being the statistical weakness for the Flames, that only increases the degree of difficulty should Liberty be rendered one-dimensional.
Don’t rule out Liberty’s defense making things equally difficult for the Chanticleers. While CCU’s Grayson McCall is a multi-talented force under center, the Flames’ Durrell Johnson and TreShaun Clark on the defensive line combined for 19 tackles for a loss, 12.5 sacks and an interception. They should make McCall uncomfortable.
One thing that McCall has that Willis and the Liberty offense doesn’t, is an 800-yard receiver in Jaivon Heiligh. This gives Coastal Carolina a chance to run a balanced offense and be more difficult to stop. If Liberty plays with the flaming passion that puts them one point away from a 10-0 record, they could still find a way to record the ‘W’.
Find out Saturday night at 7:30 pm EST on ESPN whether the Chanticleers go undefeated or if the Flames hold the torch as back-to-back Cure Bowl winners.