Coach Gill gives assessment of team through 5 games
The Flames are now 5 games into their first season playing a full FBS schedule. At 2-3, Coach Gill is pleased with where his team is, with all 3 losses coming against teams that made bowl games in 2017. The two wins, against Old Dominion and New Mexico, were against teams with losing records last year.
“To be 2-3, obviously would like to be 5-0 no question about that,” Gill explained. “But to be an FCS team making this transition, after 5 ball games we’ve been very competitive for the most part. That’s what we want to strive to do. We can’t control what the outcome of the score is going to be, we leave that up to our Lord and Savior.”
When he spoke about the defense specifically, Gill said when looking at the statistics, the defense isn’t where he would like it to be, but he knows the things that need to be corrected, can be as the team keeps moving forward.
“I’m encouraged as long as our guys are eager. I believe in my coaching staff as we move forward and try to get things going on the defensive side of the ball.”
Flames seek improvement in tackling
Defensive coordinator Robert Wimberly said his unit was making improvement heading into this past weekend’s game at New Mexico State. The team then took a step back in Las Cruces.
“I thought our tackling took a step back,” Wimbo said. “Two weeks ago, we were a lot more physical thudding in practice. Coach allowed us to do that, and then last week, with the travel, we thought it was best to not thud as much. But when you look at the type of young men we have, as we’re growing and trying to develop them, we have to take it upon ourselves to address that a lot more.”
Coach Gill has always discouraged live tackling during practice, whether during the season or in spring ball or training camp. “Thudding” as Coach Wimberly described, is when the defenders hit the ball carrier, wrap them up, but then let them go without taking them to the ground.
“I won’t do live tackling,” Gill said. “I think we can still get done what we need to get done with the thud. I don’t think you need to do the live scrimmage tackling to get accomplished what you need to get accomplished. You’re going to miss tackles – that happens all across the world, all across the country in college football. You want to limit those things, I think we can still accomplish the things we need to with the thud.”
Making in-game adjustments
Go back and look at the stats of any of the first 5 games, and you will see that Liberty’s defense has been fairly productive in the first half. It’s the 2nd half where the defense has surrendered most of their points. Coach Wimberly says the defensive unit needs to do a better job at making in-game adjustments.
“(In-game adjustments) is probably the biggest hurdle that we’re trying to get our young men over. When we practice what we see, our young men play real fast, but then when you start to get some motions, some adjustments that (the opponent) does to offset what we’re doing, that’s probably been the biggest adjustment. Even for our young men that played FCS, we didn’t see that a lot at the FCS level. It’s going to be some growing pains, defensively, moving up. Appalachian State, when they first transitioned to FBS, they struggled defensively the first couple of years, but you just give it time, stay consistent, and don’t lose the guys, and you will turn the tide. I have the utmost confidence in our guys that we will turn the tide.”
The injuries are starting to mount as the Flames go though the week in, week out grind of FBS football. Offensive lineman Ethan Crawford, running back Kentory Matthews, wide receiver JT Wood, defensive back Kimani Donaldson, and kicker Alex Probert were all listed as questionable by Coach Gill on Tuesday.
In Crawford’s absence against New Mexico State, Ben Fiordelise got the start while Damian Bounds played several snaps at left guard. The Flames also rotated Cooper McCaw and Sam Isaacson in at each of the tackle spots.
Alex Probert has missed the first 5 games due to an injury, and for the first time this season, Coach Gill listed him as questionable.
“Probert just started kicking a day or so ago,” Gill said of his kicker. “We’re not going to rush him back. He is structurally fine now, it’s just a matter of him being able to perform at the level we want him to play at.”
With Damian King out for at least 3 more games, Wood suffering from an injury suffered against NMSU, and Kevin Shaa electing to redshirt, the Flames are suddenly getting thin with experienced receivers. Gill highlighted Lionell McConnell as the next guy up to get more reps both as an outside receiver and inside at the slot.