There are probably some Liberty fans out there reading this article on their couch because they still haven’t been able to get up after watching Liberty fall to ULM last week. It seems hardly possible that we’re already 2 days away from kick-off and I don’t think Flames fans have ever been so nervous about their team opening up as 20+ point favorites. But that’s good! That’s the attitude Coach Freeze has preached every week that anybody can beat anybody and you can’t overlook anyone and for the first time this season I firmly believe that every player on this team is taking that to heart. I said last week that Liberty would never be caught sleeping again and you can bet they won’t this time. Liberty is going to be looking to dominate in this one and these are 3 keys to how Liberty can do just that.
1. CHANGE IT UP IN THE REDZONE
Whatever Liberty is doing in the red zone, it’s not working. Liberty currently sits 88th in the nation in redone conversion percentage at 81% and if only TDs are counted Liberty’s conversion percentage drops to 71%. Hugh Freeze is a brilliant tactician between the 20s, but in front of the goal line Liberty’s offense becomes completely stagnant and innovative play calling is minimal.
Liberty has now lost 2 games after failing to convert on fourth and goal in the red zone. Redzone offense is typically where power football comes into play and teams prove what they’re made of as they simply bully their way into the endzone and that is clearly what Hugh Freeze want’s his team to be, but it isn’t working because Liberty just isn’t that team this year. A combination of offensive line struggles and the loss of main power back Peytton Pickett to the transfer portal has meant that Liberty just doesn’t have the personnel to make the short-yardage plays. Liberty needs to adjust and play to their strengths, which is Malik Willis and Hugh Freeze’s innovative play calling. Liberty should try some trickeration, mix in the RPO more, get the tight ends more involved, anything to confuse the defense and get Willis and his arm more involved inside the 20. One thing is obvious that the passing game definitely needs to become more of a weapon down by the goal line to soften up the defense. Of Liberty’s 22 red zone scores, only 7 have been passing touchdowns.
2. USE BACKS SITUATIONALLY
Shedro Louis is 5’8’’ 175lbs. Joshua Mack is 5’11’’ 200lbs. TJ Green is 6’1’’ 200 lbs. Looking at these backs, who would you think Liberty would choose on fourth and goal from the one (against ULM’s short-yardage package) to run the ball into the teeth of the defense on a straight-up inside run power play? If you said Liberty’s biggest back TJ Green you would be incorrect, instead Liberty used their converted wide receiver and smallest back Shedro Louis who predictably was unable to punch it in. This wasn’t the only time that Liberty used their undersized back on short-yardage plays as throughout the game, despite Mack and Green each averaging almost 4 yards a carry, Liberty brought in Louis to run it straight up the middle. Shedro Louis is one of the fastest guys on the team and has great top-end speed that works well in draws, outside runs, or screen passes but power football up the middle is not a strength or a battle he will win most plays (although he has on occasion with a full head of steam been able to break tackles against bigger defenders, but that’s with a lot of momentum going into the hit).
Part of the reason Louis has been put in these situations is that Liberty has doggedly stuck to their unsuccessful 3 back offense. Liberty has been taking their backs and instead of putting them in on plays that work to their strengths, just sticking them in the game for one or two drives regardless of the play call (in most situations) and then pulling them in an arbitrary manner which must create as much confusion for the backs as it does for fans watching it take place. There is a place for a 3 back format on this offense and each RB has valuable skills they bring to the table but not in the way Liberty has been doing it so far.
Mack has shown the most promise to be able to take on the role of main back and there is strong evidence that the longer he stays in the game the better he will get as shown against MTSU and really by his performance last season. Shedro with his speed and pass-catching abilities is a great third down and medium to long back whose pass-catching abilities add another element to Liberty’s playbook in key conversion situations where the power run game isn’t an option. He is also a good change of pace back whose quick cutting and top-end speed could catch a defense unaware if they have gotten used to Mack’s style of play. TJ Green is a classic power back with the same weight as Mack but an added 2 inches which comes up big in short-yardage situations where every inch counts. Green with the ability he has shown to power through and break tackles becomes an excellent goal-line/third and short back and Liberty should lean heavily on Green and his abilities in the red zone which may help LU do better at key 1.
3. KICK THE FOOTBALL
There’s not trusting the kicking game and wanting to prove your offense can get the ball across the end zone and then there is just poor decision making and Liberty has had a mix of all of the above. I get why Hugh Freeze wanted to go for it against Syracuse after Liberty’s special teams hadn’t even shown it could be 100% from extra point range and I get Hugh Freeze wanting to go for it early in the ULM game after taking the ball at the one and wanting to prove that Liberty could physically dominate the ULM defense but at this point in the season, Liberty should just take the points when they can.
Liberty’s kicking game is in a totally different spot now with the much more promising Beck at the helm and Liberty has not proven they have the players or the play calling to get it done in the red zone so Hugh Freeze should walk away with points when he can. It is demoralizing to an offense when they don’t know if even when they get inside the 20 that they’ll be coming away with points and not scoring anything causes a huge momentum swing for opposing defenses. If Liberty can improve on key 1 then they won’t have to deal with this issue but if it comes to fourth down and the game situation doesn’t demand a kick (Liberty down by more than 3 points on the final drive) Liberty should be sending out the kicking unit every time.
Kicking is all about mind games and a coach that clearly doesn’t trust the kicking game isn’t going to inspire confidence in his kicker. Sending out the kicking unit a few times a game will not only likely result in more points but also help improve the mindset and attitude of this kicking unit.
Liberty needs a dominant win if they want to prove that last week was a fluke based on poor planning and overlooking an opponent and not representative of the team’s ability or level of play as a whole. There is a lot of talk right now about Conference expansion and Liberty has been brought up as not a candidate for the AAC or even the Sun Belt but for the almost universally recognized worst conference in FBS college football, Conference USA. Liberty needs to prove that even though they are only 4 seasons into their FBS history they have already reached a level of play that is far beyond that offered by C-USA. Liberty has already beaten 3 C-USA teams but none of them have been truly dominant wins. Liberty needs to shake off the funk it has found itself in this season and prove once and for all that they deserve to be considered among the top teams in the Group of 5 and curb-stomping C-USA’s North Texas in a week where many are suggesting LU join them in obscurity is the perfect way to do just that.
Now, I have predicted multiple blowouts this season and none have come to fruition. As much as LU needs a blowout in this game and as much as my heart may want one my head says this isn’t going to happen this week. I expect LU to play more focused and come in more prepared and I expect them to walk away with a win, but my suspicion is that Liberty is still reeling after the shocking loss last week and will need at least one game to get themselves back on track. A lot will depend on how Willis handles himself and if he’s able to settle himself down, but while I don’t expect him to have another 3 pick performance, I don’t expect him to be back to his true form just yet. My prediction for this one is a game closer than it should be but not really ever in doubt as Liberty gets out with a 2 to 3 score win.
Liberty 42 vs North Texas 23
Written by Mr. Exclamation Point