1. R&R FOR THE IR
As impressive as Liberty has been, there hasn’t actually been a point this season that the Flames have been full strength. Each week, the Flames have seen one or more of their key players inhibited or sidelined by injury and this bye week is the perfect chance for the Flames to get the whole team back to full health. Headlining the injury lineup for the Flames are stand out wide receivers CJ Yarbrough and Noah Frith as well as the Flames’ second-leading rusher (Willis is number one) RB Joshua Mack.
Yarbrough actually saw playing time for the Flames last week, but was a game-time decision and clearly wasn’t 100%, as he only managed to snag one catch for 14 yards. Joshua Mack has been dealing with an elbow infection, which has limited his ability to play and practice, and he had difficulty finding his groove against Southern Miss with only 17 yards on 9 carries (although he did punch in a late TD). As for Noah Frith, he remained on the sideline last week after being a game-time decision.
One of the best quotes from last week was when the ESPN3 announcers said “Liberty has more weapons at their disposal than the Pentagon.” Liberty truly has a wide plethora of options on offense and has been explosive in the run and pass game, but what might be the scariest thing for opposing defensive coordinators is that we haven’t even seen what Liberty can do with all of its “weapons” available. This is a great opportunity to get all of those key players back.
One of the things that smaller teams struggle with when playing bigger Power 5 type teams, is lack of depth in key positions. A smaller team may hang around in the fight until half time or even midway through the third, but by the time the fourth quarter rolls around, injuries and fatigue have often force inexperienced backups into the game which sidelines the chance for the upset. This bye week gives Liberty a chance to mix its backups in with the first team and give their bench some quality prep time playing with the starters. This will be especially key for the QB position and the secondary.
Malik Willis is a daring runner which is one of his greatest assets, but it is also one of his greatest weaknesses. Until Willis learns to slide and read situations a bit better, he is going to keep taking the big hits which means Liberty is always one play away from having to go to the second level of the roster. Liberty needs the backup QB (whoever that ends up being) to be fresh and well prepared for this one and that means getting in sync with the O-line, RBs and WRs, which all comes from extended practice time.
When it comes to the secondary, Liberty has shown dramatic improvement over the last few months, going from one of the weakest position groups for the Flames to one of the best. However, the bigger, faster, ACC wide receivers of VT are going to increase the workload significantly this week and Liberty can be sure if players have to come out for rest or injury, VT is going to target those replacements. Liberty’s DBs and Safety backups need to be ready to handle the pressure when it’s thrown their way.
3. DON’T TAKE THE FOOT OFF THE PEDAL
A bye week can be a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s a great opportunity to get rest for injured or overworked players and to work on the timing of certain plays, but it can also be a temptation to relax and lose some of the drive from earlier in the season. Liberty is 6-0, two spots outside of the Top-25 rankings and riding a lot of momentum from 6 straight weeks of expectation shattering performance. It would be easy to rest on their laurels a bit for the Flames but with the biggest matchup of the season (even if VT is no longer ranked) on the horizon for LU, they cannot afford any slacking off.
Liberty is now just over halfway through one of the most incredible seasons in school history but for all of the Ws in the left-hand column for the Flames, they have yet to be truly tested by a quality opponent. Liberty doesn’t have to wait long for matchups to shut up or confirm the critics as the next half of the season looks to be one of the most grueling faced by any team in the country. The bye week couldn’t come at a better time, as the Flames get to enter with momentum and have ample time to prepare for the tough road ahead. It will be exciting to see what this team and this coaching staff are capable of.
Written by Mr. Exclamation Point