This is it Flames Nation! The biggest game in school history is less than 48 hours from kickoff. This isn’t just Liberty’s first game against a top 15 regular season opponent and only their second matchup against an SEC school in their young FBS history, it is also the first time Hugh Freeze will face off against his former team, a team that he is responsible for bringing back to relevance in the modern era of college football. Hugh Freeze beat Alabama twice with Ole Miss, the question is, can Freeze pull off an upset of similar proportions over his former team with this LU Flames squad?
1. PLAY LIKE THE O-LINE DOESN’T EXIST
This may seem harsh but it is definitely deserved as Liberty’s O-line has been the weakest unit by far on this Flames’ roster this season, and that’s despite returning all 5 starters from last season. Liberty’s O-line has allowed 29 sacks this year for a total of 188 yards lost. Liberty’s O-line is a liability against any opponent, but especially against Ole Miss’ fast and aggressive defense which has racked up 25 sacks this season.
Liberty should not just call plays with the expectation that Willis’ time to the throw will be severely limited, but they should literally act in their play calling like the O-line didn’t exist and look for ways to artificially force the defense to back off and give Willis time. Plays Liberty can run that will force Ole Miss to limit its pass rush work against their aggressive nature are screens passes to the backs in the flat, quick throws, throws to the TE in the middle of the field, and occasionally the deep ball. If Liberty comes in assuming that they can protect Willis and get a run game going they will fail. Liberty is going to have to use innovation and aggressive pass plays to get the defense to focus more on coverage and back off from the line of scrimmage.
2. ALL OUT BLITZ
Liberty has not been able to consistently pressure the QB this season with just its normal pass rush and that task will get even harder against the Rebels’ SEC caliber O-lineman. Additionally, Liberty’s secondary has been highly vulnerable to giving up big plays in the passing game this season. It is unlikely that Liberty’s defenders will be able to man up against Ole Miss’ defenders, so Liberty should focus on zone defense and send as many extra guys as possible to assist with the pass rush which is likely going to struggle to win the battles upfront.
There are two main advantages to this approach. First, Ole Miss is likely to be able to find the open man any way but the blitz will force the pass off quicker so limiting the damage done on the reception and also should help force some mistakes and even turnovers if LU can start to rattle the QB.
Secondly, Ole Miss is having issues with its QB position right now. Starter Matt Corral severely injured his ankle last week, and, even though reports are indicating he may be able to play, he will not be 100%. If Liberty can bring pressure, Corral will likely not be as mobile as he usually is and QB’s playing hurt tend to make mistakes, especially under pressure. If Corral can’t play then it will be up to true Freshman QB Luke Altmyer who has appeared in just 3 games this season and saw limited action in all of them. The best thing LU can do is fluster the young QB who would be making his first collegiate start and if Liberty can derail him early and start forcing him to make mistakes those errors should only compound as the game goes on.
3. SET UP BETTER ON FOURTH DOWN
Hugh Freeze has expressed a clear desire to go for it on fourth down on the opponent’s side of the field and keep the kicking unit on the sideline. That’s fine, but Liberty doesn’t play third down like they are setting up for fourth down, they just try to pick it all up in one play. If Liberty is committed to not kicking the football, they need to start putting themselves in more make-able fourth downs with the understanding that it’s ok if they don’t pick it all up on the third as long as they can get half now and the other half on fourth. Liberty’s opportunities on the Ole Miss side of the 50 will depend on how well the coaching staff can compensate for the O-line struggles, but those they do get LU better make count with an Ole Miss offense waiting to come on the field which is averaging almost 40 points per game.
This is definitely a major mismatch as Liberty is facing a team with wins against 3 SEC programs and ranked in the Top 25 while Liberty has struggled against the likes of Troy, ULM, and North Texas. However, if anyone could lead Liberty to victory it would be the man who took an Ole Miss team that 3 years before had won just 2 games and got them back-to-back wins over Alabama.
I predicted an LU upset in my season preview but that was going off of last year’s Ole Miss team and last year’s LU team. Not only has this year’s Ole Miss team taken a major step forward, but Liberty has also failed to look as dominant or explosive offensively as they did last season and the defense has not adjusted as well in the second half of the season as they did last year.
There are some glaring issues that no amount of creative coaching or play-calling is going to cover up for. Namely, the complete inability to block in all phases by the offensive line, the gaping holes in the secondary, and the lack of a reliable running game to complement and take the heat off of Willis. I expect Willis to have a strong performance with some incredible plays that catch the attention of the 20+ NFL teams represented at the game, but ultimately, I don’t believe that Liberty will be able to get Hugh Freeze the win over his former team although I do expect them to give it their all and can’t wait to root them on with the rest of you that make the trip!
Final Score Prediction: Liberty 38 vs Ole Miss 52
Written by Mr. Exclamation Point