Liberty’s game against UAB was always going to be a big test for the Flames (Blazers are C-USA champions 2 out of the last 3 years, including last season), but after the loss last week to Syracuse, this game becomes a season defining matchup for the Flames. The Flames are already plenty motivated for this week’s game, but as if that wasn’t enough, Liberty has an extra bit of bulletin board material in the fact that this will be the first week the Flames are not favored going in. Can Liberty overcome its first loss since November of 2020? This article will make a prediction as well as layout 3 keys to victory in this crucial matchup for the Flames.
The D-line has been a real strength for this Flames team. Coming into last week’s matchup, the Flames had allowed only 58 yards rushing per game and only two TDs on the ground. The script was flipped last week, however, when Syracuse managed to put up 228 yards and 3 scores on a D-line which (at least in the first half) had no answers for the Syracuse rushing attack. This week offers a chance at redemption for this whole Flames team, but especially the D-line which will be anxious to prove they are the same dominating unit from the first 3 games that Liberty’s D can anchor themselves on.
Like it or not, and Hugh Freeze definitely does not, this offense runs through Willis’ legs. Last week Syracuse managed to contain Willis’ scrambling ability and the offense suffered accordingly. Willis rushed for a season-low 49 yards and saw his first game that he did not manage to score on the ground. While Liberty’s designed QB run plays worked well, Freeze was clearly hesitant to call too many of them in the first half of the game. While the last thing Liberty wants is to see their star QB get hurt, they’re going to have to roll the dice and use all the talent available from the best player on the field. Liberty should look to incorporate more RPO, QB draw, QB option, and bootleg into their play calling which will help make up for an underperforming O-line and also open up holes in the coverage for the passing game.
3. SIDESTEP THE KICKING GAME
It is becoming readily apparent that Liberty’s kicking game is about as reliable as the pizza at the ROT (hopefully Liberty’s dining hall has not had a culinary revival since I graduated in 2019 so this joke lands). Currently, Barbir has made one field goal in 4 attempts (one was blocked) and has also missed an extra point. At this point, no kick is guaranteed, and with a coaching mind as creative as Hugh Freeze’s and a QB as multi-talented as Willis, Liberty is probably better off going for it in most situations.
Liberty should adjust their playbook to essentially cut the field goal out of the equation. Draw up some creative special teams’ formations that can be thrown out of or called back in to kick if the defense counters. Work on some Coastal-esque RPO routes (I hate using the comparison but they run the RPO gadget offense better than anyone in the game) where Willis has 2-3 pass options on the rollout as well as the pitch or QB keep. Most importantly, however, Liberty must use third down to better set up for four-down territory.
Something has to be done to adjust for the kicking game, and barring Barbir miraculously developing into an accurate and dependable kicker overnight or Liberty revealing a surprise kicking wiz buried on the depth chart, the only other option is to accept reality and adjust accordingly. Liberty is going to have a lot more close games down the road and if they’re relying on the kicking game it could cost them.
Liberty is coming off a loss for the first time since November of 2020. In fact, Liberty has lost only twice in the last two seasons and the total margin of defeat for both games is only 4 points. Furthermore, Liberty has not lost to a Group of 5 team (not counting BYU) since September 7th of 2019 and the Flames have not lost to a Conference USA opponent since their inaugural FBS season in 2018. Let’s just say, there is a lot on the line Saturday when the Flames face the Blazers.
Liberty will need to turn a lot of things around if they want to avoid their first two-game losing streak since 2019 and rescue the flagging spirits of Flames fans, still hopeful for a statement season that establishes Liberty in the national perspective. UAB will certainly present a challenge and Hugh Freeze is right in judging the Blazers as the best team that LU has faced so far this season, but Freeze doesn’t lose a lot and I expect Liberty to be motivated and angry after the loss to Syracuse. I’ve predicted two offensive shootouts this season which both turned into low-scoring affairs but I think third time’s the charm this week. Look for Liberty offense to ride the momentum of last week’s second-half performance (which was almost good enough for the comeback) and to have a career day against UAB, while the defense struggles early but pulls it out late to get LU back on track with a win.
FINAL PREDICTION: Liberty 38 vs UAB 31
Written by Mr. Exclamation Point