No. 21 Liberty looks for 9-0 start in trip to NC State

No. 21 Liberty (8-0) at North Carolina State (5-3), Saturday at 7:30 p.m. EST (ACC Regional Sports Networks)

Line: N.C. State by 3 1/2.

Series record: N.C. State leads 1-0.

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

Liberty looks to continue an unbeaten season when it visits N.C. State in search of a third road win against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents. Hugh Freeze’s Flames can tie the program record of 11 straight wins dating to last season, while this is the first 8-0 start in program history. Dave Doeren’s Wolfpack beat Florida State last week to stop a two-game skid. N.C. State has won three of its four home games this season.

KEY MATCHUP

Liberty’s ground game has been one of the best in the Bowl Subdivision ranks. The Flames are 12th in the country by averaging 254.5 yards rushing per game, including 338 yards at Syracuse and 249 yards at Virginia Tech. N.C. State is around the middle of the FBS by allowing 178.5 yards rushing per game, but the Wolfpack struggled badly in losses to the Hokies (314) and North Carolina (326).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Liberty: QB Malik Willis. The Auburn transfer has been responsible for 16 touchdowns in the last three games, including 12 through the air. He’s averaging 100.7 rushing yards in the last three games while completing 72.5% of his passes. On the season, he’s thrown for 15 touchdowns with just one interception.

N.C. State: WR Thayer Thomas. He is coming off career highs of 11 catches for 135 yards to go with two touchdowns against FSU. He had been quiet coming in, managing merely a 9-yard catch in a loss to Miami and eight catches combined over the previous four games.

FACTS & FIGURES

Liberty had never beaten an ACC team before winning 38-21 at Syracuse and then 38-35 at Virginia Tech. … The Flames are 16-5 overall under Freeze. … This is the first time N.C. State has hosted a ranked nonconference opponent since 2008, when the Wolfpack faced East Carolina and South Florida in consecutive weeks. … N.C. State won the only other meeting in 2011 (47-21). … Four Wolfpack players rank among the top 25 tacklers in the ACC, including league leader Payton Wilson (10.7) at linebacker. … This is Liberty’s third straight week in the AP Top 25 poll. … The Flames have a chance to reach 4-0 on the road for the first time since 1997.

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More AP college football: http://apnews.com/Collegefootball and http://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25

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