Liberty won last week by 28 points, but it somehow didn’t feel like a big win. The Flames struggled at times to stop the pass and turned the ball over 3 times in Willis’ first 3 turnovers of the season after starting off the season’s first 5 games without throwing a single pick. It was definitely not the complete performance Hugh Freeze wanted from his 5-1 Flames, but the scheduling gods have smiled on LU this week and give them a chance to get back on track against a team that has allowed 471.2 yards of offense per game and only managed 238 total yards per game themselves.
1. GET WILLIS BACK INTO IT
Willis just looked off Saturday. He struggled at times to elude the rush or avoid defenders on the run (usually one of his strengths) and was definitely out of sorts in the passing game where he threw 3 interceptions and constantly overthrew receivers in route to just a 57% passing percentage. Usually, I would say take it easy with your star QB in a matchup like this and do everything possible to avoid injury, but Liberty cannot afford their top player to go into a slump at this point in the season. Look for LU to run their full offense as usual and find ways to get Willis back on rhythm with some high percentage throws before taking the top off the defense with some bombs to get his confidence back up and help him. ULM is giving up over 300 yards passing per game so there should be plenty of opportunities for Willis to make his mark in this one and get back on the same page with his wide receivers.
2. SEE WHERE THE MACK TRAIN CAN TAKE YOU
This is a bit of a continuation of my key from last week, “See what one back can do,” which Liberty completely ignored until the second half when the running game struggles from the 3 back look pushed them to a single back format behind Joshua Mack and he exploded for 91 yards and a score. This key gets more specific and pushes for Liberty to ride the energy Mack gained last week and see if that didn’t spark something. If Mack is back for this offense, which has really lacked a reliable running game, Liberty could be a very dangerous opponent who could make things interesting in November against the likes of Ole Miss, UL, and Army.
3. TRY OUT BECK’S LEG
Last week, Liberty’s freshman kicker did something no kicker has done this year for LU and that makes a kick from 35+. Beck’s 37-yard kick against MTSU was a beauty and would definitely have been good from 40+! Liberty needs to find out if Beck’s kicking last week was a one-off thing or if he can be a reliable part of this Flames attack. Liberty shouldn’t need a touchdown every drive to beat ULM and it would be nice to test out the range of Beck’s leg in a game-day environment. Now, I’m obviously not saying that LU should play for the field goal every drive, but if it’s 4th and short inside the 40, a spot that Freeze has gone for it more often than not, trot out the kicker and see what he can do.
Additionally, the plan it seems is to use Barbir as the long-range kicker but if Liberty is facing a 50-yard kick and the game isn’t in the balance, they should try out Beck to see what his max range is in-game. The coaches may think they know the answers to all these questions already from watching him in practice but there is a huge difference between a practice environment and game day one and especially on the road against a bottom tier opponent, it’s a perfect time to get a guy some experience while getting a chance to evaluate what he can bring to the team going forward.
Last season UL-Monroe presented a legitimate stumbling block after Liberty was coming off of a game against FCS team North Alabama in which they had struggled and only scored 28 points. Nobody really knew what to expect from a Liberty team who was 4-0 but had struggled against bottom-tier competition. Liberty would go on to win the game 40-7.
This year’s team is good and everyone knows it, it’s just a matter of how good. Liberty has 28 point wins over two basement dwelling Group of 5 teams, a surprise crushing of a good UAB team, and a blowout victory (48-7) against FCS foe Campbell but struggled in the matchup against now 3-3 Troy and lost by one point to Syracuse. Liberty feels like it is right on the verge of greatness if it can just get all the pieces to fall together.
UL Monroe has allowed two consecutive teams to score over 50 points on them and has lost 3 games by 30+ points. Liberty has a chance here to get back on track, finally, put together the dominant win Flames fans and coaches have been looking for, and go over 50 for the first time this season. I think Liberty will dominate offensively and finally get the ground game going while the Liberty defense will be close to getting a shutout in this one before the subs come in and give ULM a score or two late in the matchup.
SCORE PREDICTION: Liberty 56 vs ULM 10
Written by Mr. Exclamation Point