LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) — Kaidon Salter threw for 225 yards, rushed for 118 and accounted for four touchdowns Saturday as No. 25 Liberty defeated UMass 49-25.
Salter averaged better than 20 yards per pass while completing 11 of 16. He tossed touchdowns of 13 of 5 yards to Austin Henderson and scored on runs of 1 and 12 yards.
The Flames (11-0) struck early, scoring on four straight first-half drives to take a 28-0 lead.
“That’s two weeks in a row we started well,” Liberty coach Jamey Chadwell said, “and as a coach, we’ve got to figure out how ... to finish with that same intensity through all four quarters. But it was it was good to see us come out like that.”
Taisun Phommachanh threw for 239 yards on 22-of-38 passing for UMass (3-8), but Liberty intercepted him twice. Preston Hodge had a 62-yard pick-six in the third quarter to give Liberty a 42-10 lead.
“I knew I was going to the house,” Hodge said.
Quinton Cooley, who ran for 102 yards, broke loose for a 60-yard touchdown in the first quarter, bowling over a defender at the line of scrimmage, hurdling another as he entered the open field and running untouched down the sideline for a 21-point lead.
Liberty, which entered the game averaging a Bowl Subdivision-best 278 yards rushing per game, ran for 324.
“Like I told the guys, it's probably our worst effort of the year,” UMass coach Don Brown said. “We didn’t tackle well. When we needed to play complimentary football, we didn’t do that very well either.”
UMass was coming off a bye week and had won two straight games. Defensively, the Minutemen allowed Liberty to average 6.4 yards per rush and 20.5 per completion.
“Honestly, we wanted to assert our will on them with the run game,” Henderson said. “And I think every game that’s kind of our mindset: running the ball, just go down there and pound it and just run the ball as hard as we can. We kind of exploited some of the things they were doing defensively.”
UMass managed only 98 rushing yards on 21 carries, for 4.6 yards per tote.
Liberty’s two interceptions gave the team 19 on the season. The Flames entered the day tied for first with Oklahoma among Bowl Subdivision teams in interceptions. Liberty hasn’t always played tough defense — it struggled down the stretch in a CUSA game against Louisiana Tech on No. 4. The defense has shined the last two weeks, though.
Liberty: The Flames set a program record for wins and can finish its first perfect regular season with a victory next week.
UMass: The Minutemen, which had won its previous two games, have one more chance to reach the four-win mark for only the third time since they joined the FBS in 2012.
“The end result is we better move on because we are playing our rival next week,” Brown said. “That was the message and the challenge for us is getting our guys ready to play the last game of the year.”
Liberty is poised to move up after occupying the No. 25 spot for two weeks.
“What we’ve got to do is control what we can and keep winning and keep playing well and let the dominos fall,” Liberty coach Jamey Chadwell said when asked about the team’s ranking earlier in the week.
Liberty’s strength of schedule, considered one of the weakest at the FBS level, may be one reason it has not risen further in the polls.
UMass: Hosts UConn on Saturday.
Liberty: Visits UTEP on Saturday.
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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football