1. BE AGGRESSIVE ON DEFENSE
Syracuse is an established ACC team, and Liberty is a team playing only their third year in the FBS, as a result, the majority of Syracuse’s offensive players are going to be bigger, faster and just more athletically gifted than the majority of Liberty’s defensive players. However, the great thing about College Football is that the smaller dog in the fight always has a chance (remember we beat Baylor). The way Liberty can overcome the athletic divide is with an aggressive defensive game plan. The key is going to be in multiple blitz packages and DBs who have their heads turned around, looking for the pick. I would like to think that Liberty’s secondary has turned a page and that the incredible pass coverage seen last week against UL Monroe is representative of how the DBs and safeties will be playing throughout the rest of the season, but that seems overly optimistic for a position group which has struggled so much in 2020. Syracuse is without their starting QB for probably the rest of the season after he suffered a lower-body injury in last week’s loss to Duke. Whoever starts for Syracuse will be a backup with very limited playing time, the best thing Liberty can do is to pressure him and force him into quick and hopefully poor decisions. Regardless of what Liberty does defensively, they will probably give up a few big plays as has been their trend, but if Liberty can make up for those plays with turnovers and tackles for loss it should be enough for Liberty to walk away with a W.
2. TURN WILLIS LOOSE
Liberty wins or loses this game on how well Willis plays. Liberty needs to trust in their star QB and use his skills to the fullest. Willis has had three weeks to recover from his elbow injury and two weeks to practice as the reestablished starter, the playbook should be fully open this week and the coaches shouldn’t be limited to simply deep throws over the top. Now, Willis needs to be careful and evaluate whether that extra yard is going to make that much of a difference or if it would be better to play it safe and slide but he can’t feel restrained out there. In what will probably be an offensive shoot out, Liberty needs their standout QB operating at 100% Liberty doesn’t have time for Willis to get warmed up in this one, he needs to come out firing and ready to go if Liberty wants to stay with Syracuse in this week’s matchup.
3. GET THE SCREEN GAME GOING
One of the most impressive things about Liberty’s wide receivers has been their ability to make plays in space and to avoid the first tackler to get big yards after catch. Considering this ability, it has been surprising that the screen game has been so underutilized. With Syracuse’s defensive likely sending linebackers to stop the QB or RB run, the screen game could end up being a huge factor in this game if timed appropriately. Easy screen passes will also help get Willis established in a throwing rhythm and force Syracuse’s DBs to cheat up a bit which could open up big play opportunities down the field.
Liberty last played Syracuse in the Flames’ home opener of their first bowl-eligible FBS season last year. It was a big moment, with the Flames hosting the first-ever Power 5 team in school history. There were high expectations for the Flames, with Buckshot Calvert coming into his senior year and former Ole Miss head coach, Hugh Freeze, bringing in a revamped offensive game plan. However, before the season could even begin LU’s plans took a bit of a sidetrack when Coach Freeze developed an infection which left him barely able to walk. With coach Freeze directing from a hospitable bed up in the press box, Liberty performed below the pre-season expectations of many fans and the end result was a 0-24 loss, spoiling Freeze’s first game as head coach.
This matchup isn’t just another game, for the Sophomores and upperclassmen on Liberty’s roster, this one is personal. In a surprise move, Vegas actually listed the Flames as favorites coming into this matchup (although ESPN only gives Liberty a 34.5% chance to win). Despite what the analysts in Vegas may say, LU is definitely the underdogs in this matchup and is going to have to play well and minimize mistakes in all three phases (Offense, Defense and Special Teams).
Liberty has been one of the hardest teams to predict this year as the Flames have struggled to find consistency across the board. However, the Flames have had this matchup circled since the clock hit zero in last year’s opener. I expect the Flames to come out well prepared for this one and reestablish the offensive rhythm we saw through the first two games. Defense is likely going to be touch and go for the Flames, but with Syracuse starting a backup QB, the Flames D should be able to force enough mistakes for Liberty’s offense to pull out the win. If Liberty can find a way to win this week they could be knocking on the door in the next Top 25 polls.
Final Score Prediction: Liberty 38 vs Syracuse 31
Written by Mr. Exclamation Point