Unbeaten Liberty seeking second victory of the season against New Mexico State in CUSA title game

Thu, Nov 30, 2023
NCAAF News (AP)

Unbeaten Liberty seeking second victory of the season against New Mexico State in CUSA title game

Liberty's first year in Conference USA could not have gone better, but the No. 20 Flames' perfect season will be on the line again in the conference championship.

The 12-0 Flames will host New Mexico State (10-3) for the second time this season with the title on the line. The Aggies, like Liberty, are first-year members of CUSA, and they will arrive a much different team than in September, when they lost 33-17.

"Obviously, we know each other. The thing that is different with this game is it has been 10 or 11 weeks since the first meeting, so they are a very different ball club to what they were then, but we are too," Flames coach Jamey Chadwell said. "There are not going to be any surprises. I think it's a unique experience to decide a true champion."

The Aggies have won eight straight games since starting 2-3, including a 31-10 victory at Auburn in which they dominated throughout. followed by a 20-17 victory against Jacksonville State secured by a field goal as the clock struck 0:00.

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"I think we wanted to go into the championship game playing with a good rhythm. Jacksonville State had a situation in the conference, and it meant a lot to us that we needed to win that game to deserve to be here in the conference championship game," Aggies coach Jerry Kill said.

TURNOVERS

A key to any game, New Mexico State committed three in its first meeting with the Flames and Liberty had just one. Two of Liberty's nation-best 20 interceptions came against the Aggies' Diego Pavia, who threw just six others this season.

"We just have to go up there and keep doing what we've been doing. But we can't turn the ball over that many times and expect to win the game," Kill said.

RUNNING WILD

The Flames rank No. 1 nationally in rushing offense (295.4 yards per game), and the Aggies hold foes to 126.4 rushing yards per game. RB Quinton Cooley leads the way with 1,251 yards, ranking No. 11 in the nation. QB Kaidon Salter is 101 yards away from joining Cooley as Liberty's first pair of 1,000-yard rushers in the same season.

SOMETHING HAS TO GIVE

The Flames lead CUSA in scoring, averaging 40.08 points, while the Aggies lead CUSA in scoring defense, allowing an average of 19.69. ... Liberty also leads the league in rushing defense, allowing 106.17 yards per game, while New Mexico State averages 204.69 rushing yards and has had at least 170 in 16 straight games.

HISTORY

The Aggies' victory at Auburn as a 25 1/2-point underdog was not the first time they proved oddsmakers wrong. Last season, they faced the Flames as a 24-point underdog at Williams Stadium and won 49-14. Both victories came against teams coached by Hugh Freeze, who left Liberty for Auburn after last season.

HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT

New Mexico State lost in front of 20,123 at Liberty's Williams Stadium on Sept. 9, but they won in front of 88,043 at Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium.

"The noise at Auburn was a good experience for our guys.," Kill said.

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