1. Improve on Special Teams:
Liberty had an across the board atrocious outing in the special teams department last week against FIU. The Flames allowed FIU to have a 100+ yard kickoff return for a touchdown to start the game and this was not the only flub on kickoff coverage, as the Flames allowed subsequent returns of 36 and 65 yards (the latter of which set the Panthers up to score and nearly tie the game late in the forth but for a missed 2-point conversion). This was a surprising turn of events, considering how good Liberty’s kickoff coverage was vs WKU (12.2 yards averaged per return). The kicking game was also shaky with Flame’s kicker Alex Barbir missing his first kick wide right from 36 yards out and though he would redeem himself later with three straight field goals made, none where any further than 27 yards away. Aidan Alves’s punts, while not terrible, had a tendency to check back up, giving FIU better field position. FCS school North Alabama (UNA) may not pose as much of a threat as the rest of the teams on Liberty’s schedule but special team errors are a sure fired way to keep an opposing team in the game.
2. Finish Drives
Liberty has had 6 drives inside the 25 end on field goal attempts and one additional drive inside the 20 that ended with a failed forth down conversion. So far this season, Liberty is scoring a touchdown only 50% of the time when they get inside the red zone. That has got to change if Liberty wants to compete with some of the bigger teams on its schedule where red zone opportunities will be more scarce. Scoring field goals vs touchdowns last week meant that instead of having a comfortable 14 point lead in the last minutes of the fourth quarter, Flame’s fans where holding their breath while FIU attempted a 2-point conversion to tie the game. UNA is the perfect team to iron out the creases in LU’s short game. The Flames will be going up against a defense which allowed opponents to score an average of 33.55 points per game last year against solely FCS competition. Needless to say, there should be plenty of scoring opportunities for Liberty’s high octane offense.
3. Get Ferguson Into the Game Flow
Willis is reported to be good to go Saturday, but even so, it would be good for the Flames to let Ferguson get some meaningful reps and settle into the flow of the game. Willis is an exciting QB and a daring runner but he is also a bit reckless and takes hits that he probably shouldn’t. Its simple statistics that the more times a QB is hit, the greater his chances of suffering a mid to long term injury. Last week’s game showed how crucial it is to have a game ready QB behind center. Ferguson (outside of his first snap) was terrific and converted a key third down conversion with a beautiful pass across the middle, but what if FIU had actually made its 2-point conversion and he was being called on to put together a game winning drive, not just to kill some clock? Could he do it? Ferguson is a veteran QB but he hasn’t played a full game in over a year. Getting Ferguson meaningful playing time against UNA will help prepare him for if his number ever gets called to win it in crunch time. The Flames should be prepared for every team on their schedule and not underestimate any of them, but UNA should be a team that the Flame’s can easily handle without having to lean on the dazzling skills of Willis.
The Flames have given their fans a couple of heart stopping games the last two weeks but this week’s matchup should give Flames Nation a chance to catch their breath. Besides normal injury risk, this 2020 season comes with its own unique sidelining danger. Covid contact tracing, or worse yet contraction, could at any moment sideline a large part of the team and the Flames may at some point in the season have to rely heavily on their second and even third string players. It is vitally important that Freeze takes this opportunity to get his backups real playing time so that they are ready if the moment comes. There should be ample opportunities to give the starters a rest in this one which ESPN must agree with as they have relegated the matchup to their backburner of channels on ESPN 3.
Final Score Prediction: Liberty 52 vs Northern Alabama 17
Written by Mr. Exclamation Point