By Sean Shapiro, FCS Assistant
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - If nothing else, watching Liberty quarterback Mike Brown during film session this week gave James Madison coach Mickey Matthews and his staff a few good-hearted chuckles.
"He made me laugh earlier this week," Matthews said. "I was watching the N.C. State game and he scrambles out to his right, N.C. State has two linebackers in hot pursuit and I told all the coaches in the room, 'I'm gonna bet a steak dinner neither one of these guys lays a hand on him.'
"And neither of them did. The whole room just started laughing."
Hopefully for Matthews, he got all his Brown-oriented jokes in, because if the senior quarterback is scrambling right against the Dukes and burns a pair of defenders, the coach certainly won't be smiling.
A dual-threat quarterback, Brown is hoping he'll be the one cracking a smile Saturday when No. 22 Liberty hosts No. 13 James Madison at 7 p.m. (ESPN3) at Williams Stadium in Lynchburg, Va.
It's by far the biggest non-conference game of the season for the Flames, as the in-state rival Dukes not only bring an opportunity to establish state bragging rights but also a measuring stick on whether or not Liberty can finally launch itself into the FCS playoffs with a win against a talented CAA team.
"If you want to be considered a great team, or a really great team, you have to gain respect in your home state," Brown said.
Not only has Liberty failed to gain widespread respect in Virginia - Matthews called it a "Super Bowl-like" game and a "much bigger" game for the Flames than the Dukes - but also have failed to impress enough to reach the playoffs, despite winning at least a share of four straight Big South titles.
That doesn't sit well with Liberty's seniors, a group which is truly living in a now-or-never type of season.
"Expectations are really high," Brown said. "I guess the one neat thing about this year is the leadership on our team each and every week. I think guys are really starting to understand what people need to do week in and week out."
Like his teammates, Brown - a back-to-back Big South Offensive Player of the Year - is refining his skill set by drawing from experience gained in difficult losses.
"I've learned a lot from lots of games," Brown said. "I guess the game I actually learned the most from is that one against JMU last season (a 10-3 JMU win). We had so many missed opportunities in that game - a missed block here, a missed throw there. When those opportunities come up, we have to take advantage."
More often than not, Brown capitalizes on those chances with even more success as he's matured and evolved from a tuck-it-and-run type of quarterback when pressure arises to a patient, accurate pocket passer at times.
"He's developed and become more and more patient in the pocket," Liberty coach Danny Rocco said. "He's no longer just starting to scramble and move out of the pocket. Instead he's stepping up in the pocket, finding his read and making smart plays."
However, even though he might be more patient in the pocket, Brown is still one of the more athletic quarterbacks in the FCS.
Having rushed for 120 yards - a number that would be higher if sacks didn't count against a quarterback's total - and passed for another 488, Brown has dazzled this season, demolishing Robert Morris and at times giving North Carolina State defenders trouble. With five total touchdowns (three passing, two rushing), it's more of a question of how Brown will score, rather than if he will.
With that being said, Brown has yet to taste the end zone against the Dukes and a victory Saturday could be a major statement for Liberty and its talented, decorated quarterback.
09/16 10:22:41 ET