BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – Liberty opened its 2020 season on the run, rushing for an FBS-era-record 363 yards on the way to a 30-24 victory over Western Kentucky, Saturday at Houchens-Smith Stadium. The game featured a pair of bowl champions from 2019, as Liberty won the FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl over Georgia Southern and WKU won the First Responder Bowl over Western Michigan.
Malik Willis, making his first career start after transferring from Auburn, had a monster game for the Flames (1-0), with 133 passing yards (13-for-21) and 168 rushing yards and three touchdown rushes on 21 carries. His 168 rushing yards were the most by a Liberty quarterback in program history. Joshua Mack rushed for 100 yards on 23 carries, giving Liberty two 100-yard rushers for the second regular-season game in a row.
Liberty held a 17-3 lead early in the second quarter before WKU (0-2) came back to tie it at 17-17 during the early stages of the second half. The Flames’ ground game took over from that point, leading to a pair of touchdowns that helped build a 30-17 advantage. The Hilltoppers drew to within six points with 3:04 left in the game, but Liberty ran out the clock to secure the victory.
The Flames outgained Western Kentucky 487-291 on the game, as Liberty rushed for 363 yards on 58 attempts. The visitors’ 363 rushing yards were their most since rushing for 429 yards at Presbyterian, Oct. 13, 2012. WKU’s defense allowed just 135.5 rushing yards per game last season, ranking 34th in the nation.
Meanwhile, Liberty’s defense held its opponent below 300 total yards for the second game in a row, a stretch that included a 249-yard effort against Georgia Southern in the FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl.
The Flames return home for the next three games, beginning next Saturday as Liberty hosts FIU (0-0) on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Williams Stadium.