Liberty came within 13 points of pulling off a major upset on the road two weeks ago against an Ole Miss team that is now ranked No. 12 in the nation (an Ole Miss team that took out No. 11 Texas A&M last week). It was an inspired performance in the second half which saw Liberty hold Ole Miss to only 3 points and put up two scores themselves.
This week’s matchup isn’t against an SEC team and UL isn’t ranked in the official CFP polls, but the Ragin Cajuns are on a 9 game winning streak and at 9-1 have the best record of any school LU has played this year. If Liberty can avoid the slow start, harness the energy of the home field advantage and ride the momentum from the second half vs Ole Miss, plus fulfill my keys to the game, they should have a chance to finally get the statement win LU has been looking for all season.
1. SHUTDOWN THE BIG PLAY
UL may look dangerous with an average of 31.2 points per game and 420.1 offensive yards per contest but truthfully they’re not a very consistent offense. Anyone who has watched UL play knows they are an offense that takes advantage of big plays to make up for stalling drives or missed opportunities. In fact, UL has converted only 50 of the 132 third downs they have attempted (38%) all year. However, the stat that has kept UL alive this season is the fact that 11 different players have receptions of 20+ yards. Additionally, UL has 4 different players who have rushed for 20+ yards in at least one play. The quick-strike, big-play ability has kept UL afloat this season but that is all, and their offensive struggles have allowed subpar competition to stick around far too long. In fact, UL has 5 matchups that have been decided by one score or less, and if you count the game against Troy (where UL scored late in the fourth) it’s 6. The combined record of these 6 schools? 25-35, includes an FCS school in Nicholls and none of them are plus 50% for wins on the year.
Liberty isn’t going to stop every big play and allowing the big plays on defense (especially in the passing game) has been an issue for the Flames all year. However, Liberty is a much better team than most of the teams UL has faced this season (Appalachian State is the only team with a better record than LU and also the only team on the Cajun’s schedule with a winning record), and as previously mentioned the big plays are just barely keeping UL alive right now. If Liberty can but keep the big plays to a minimum, the Flames should have a very good chance of ending the Cajun’s winning streak.
2. ESTABLISH THE RUN
Probably the biggest surprise from the game against Ole Miss was that Liberty was actually able to get the RB running game going for really the first time this season. It has been heavily apparent that while Willis is a generational talent and one of the most elite athletes in the country, he cannot do it all by himself, especially against competent opponents. It’s a given that UL, like every team LU has played this season, will be crafting their defense to stop Willis and put maximum pressure on the QB who threw 3 INTs last week. If Liberty can continue the success they found on the ground last week with Mack as the bell cow back (19 carries for 98 yards) and Louis as the situational/change-of-pace back (7 carries for 101 yards and a score), plus find a way to mix in their biggest, more power-focused back in TJ Green (might I suggest the redzone?), LU will force Louisiana to adapt their defensive game plan and open up opportunities for the Flames’ star QB to shine.
3. AVOID THE UNFORCED ERRORS
Liberty lost by 2 scores last week and had two interceptions in the endzone, both on plays that were due primarily to poor decision making by Willis vs any defensive pressure or coverage scheme. It’s not just turnovers though that took the wind out of LU’s sails vs Ole Miss, it was also penalties in critical situations. 6 penalties for 59 yards may not seem critical but when one is already facing an opponent that outmatches you on paper, those kind of mistakes are compounded by the pre-existing disadvantage.
Now the gap between UL and LU is much smaller if it exists at all and Liberty is actually being billed as the favorite despite Louisiana’s Top 25 coaches and AP poll standing and Liberty’s unranked status. However, Liberty cannot afford to make mistakes against a very dangerous opponent who is likely going to be able to catch some big breaks against a struggling LU secondary. Liberty doesn’t need a perfect game to win but have certainly proved their own worst enemy in their 3 losses this season (6 out of the 9 INTs Willis has thrown came in two of LU’s losses). Liberty has everything they need to win this in an elite QB, an improving defense (especially the D-line), and a running game with momentum, they just need to avoid shooting themselves in the foot.
Liberty is right now 3rd in the nation in winning percentage at home with a 20-2 record (90.9%) through their first 4 FBS seasons. However, when one looks at the teams LU has played at home that record starts to seem a lot less impressive. The home game against UL this week gives the Flames a chance to change that and prove the nay-sayers wrong. A win against a good team has a way of validating all the other wins even if they were against mostly weak teams and there is no doubt that the 9-1 Ragin Cajuns are a good team. A win two weeks ago vs Ole Miss would have been nice to have, but a win against the Cajuns is a must. Liberty is at home, they are the favorite, they are playing a fellow G5 member, they are in a good viewing slot with a 4pm EST kick and on a major TV network in ESPNU. A 10 win season, a good bowl game, and a strong finish to set the Flames up for a hot start to 2022 are all on the table for the Flames but it starts with a huge game vs Louisiana. Hopefully, the student body delayed their flights till after the game because this is not one you’re going to want to miss.
SCORE PREDICTION: Liberty 38 vs Louisiana 24
Written by Mr. Exclamation Point