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Liberty aware of Akron's offensive potential despite Zips' anemic numbers

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Akron Tennessee Football

Akron quarterback DJ Irons (0) looks for a receiver as running back Cam Wiley blocks during the first half against Tennessee last weekend in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Cam Wiley, at one point last December, was the top priority for Liberty as it sought to add a running back in the recruiting class. Wiley checked off all the boxes the Flames wanted in a tailback out of the transfer portal, and his limited touches over three seasons at Minnesota showed the potential he could bring to a new program.

Hugh Freeze and offensive staff members even made an in-person visit to meet with Wiley in Minnesota on a day Freeze described as “one of the coldest days I can ever remember recruiting.”

The recruitment of Wiley ended not long after the visit once Dae Dae Hunter entered the transfer portal. Wiley ultimately elected to transfer to Akron and has become the Zips’ featured tailback. Nine months after the recruitment ended, Wiley will play at Williams Stadium when Akron (1-2) visits Liberty (2-1) for a 6 p.m. showdown Saturday.

“I really like Cam,” Freeze said. “Very mature, big, good-looking kid, can run.”

Akron’s rushing numbers through three weeks are abysmal, even with Wiley serving as the starting running back. The Zips rank 128th out of 131 Bowl Subdivision teams in both rushing yards per game (51.7) and yards per rushing attempt (1.85).

The lack of production is tied to Akron’s grueling schedule to open the season. The Zips needed overtime to beat FCS program St. Francis (Pa.) before falling on the road to Michigan State and Tennessee.

Akron coach Joe Moorhead has mixed up the combination of offensive linemen through three weeks. He told local media earlier this week that it has helped in pass protection, but it hasn’t opened running lanes for the tailbacks.

“We’ve got to find a way to be more consistent running the football when we hand it off to the running backs,” Moorhead said.

Akron elected not to run the ball much against Michigan State or Tennessee because of those Power Five teams’ strength in the trenches. The Zips will be faced with a similar matchup against Liberty’s strong defensive front.

The Flames held then-No. 19 Wake Forest to 21 rushing yards last weekend, and they have racked up 26 tackles for a loss and eight sacks through three weeks.

Wiley had 114 rushing yards through two weeks but only had four rushing yards against the Volunteers. He had eight catches with the Zips trying to get him the ball in open spaces.

“He’s dangerous in the pass game and the run game. … He’s always going to have the ball in his hands in some form or fashion,” Liberty co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Josh Aldridge said of Wiley. “They’re going to get him the ball early. They’ll line him out wide and get in empty sets and stuff like that. He’s a dynamic player and you’ve got to know where he is.”

Moorhead cited his displeasure with quarterback DJ Irons needing to run the ball 28 times through three weeks, saying his offensive scheme shouldn’t put the quarterback in harm’s way that frequently. Wiley has 38 rushing attempts, and no other running back has carried the ball more than eight times.

The 6-foot-6 Irons does allow Akron to utilize designed runs in certain situations, but the Zips have allowed 15 sacks to hurt Irons’ rushing totals.

He has completed 67% of his passes for 650 yards and two touchdowns without an interception.

“I feel like the key is the quarterback and the running back,” Liberty safety Juawan Treadwell said. “They’ve got a nice quarterback; I feel like he can do some good things. We’ve got to play good coverage, stop the run; they’ve got a nice running back transfer from Minnesota. I feel like he’s possible of doing something good. To stop the run and play good coverage on the back end, it all go together.”

Liberty has been able to make teams one-dimensional through three weeks. Southern Miss and UAB were able to utilize the run game to move the ball, and Wake Forest had to rely on its passing attack to pick up yards.

The Flames aim to put together a complete game against the Zips. Free safety JaVon Scruggs (Appomattox) is slated to return to the lineup and gives the unit all of its starters.

“I feel like the standard is high on the defensive side, so I feel like everybody is just trying to just be the best they can when the opportunity comes,” Treadwell said. “Just trying to win that situation.”

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