Liberty seemed to find their rhythm again in the second half of the North Texas game, and for a team that has seemed off all season that is a big deal. If there was ever a time for Liberty to find its stride it’s now, right before the toughest 3 game stretch in school history. However, all that progress and momentum will come crashing down if Liberty is caught looking ahead.

Liberty still has one more stop on the “tune-up tour” which has been less than a rousing success with a tougher than expected game against MTSU, a loss to bottom of the barrel ULM, and a desperate fourth-quarter comeback required to beat North Texas who LU was favored against by 20+ points. Liberty enters the UMass game favored by 36 points, their highest of the season, and LU fans will be looking for Liberty to finally get that quintessential blowout win fans have been waiting for all year. However, Liberty has already learned what happens when one comes in assuming a win and the following are 3 keys that Liberty needs to focus on to make sure they don’t face another ULM-type disaster.


A lot of this has already been touched on and should be obvious but it bears repeating. Do not come in assuming a win, but more than that, don’t come in assuming that LU will completely outclass UMass’ players and that creative play calling can be shelved in favor of LU just bullying their way to the end zone. Don’t assume that you don’t need to go for 3 if you’re facing fourth and medium in the red zone because if you miss it you can just make up for it later. Don’t assume that Willis can just evade the pass rush every time so there’s no need to design some plays to get the defense out of the blitz package. Don’t assume that UMass doesn’t have some play calls up their sleeve that they’ve been saving all season and there won’t potentially be a need to make major defensive adjustments. Basically, don’t pay attention to the metrics and don’t assume anything. Anyone can beat anyone on any given Saturday.


This key has two applications. First is the literal. Last week Johnathan Bennett was hit while throwing the ball and no whistle was blown. All of Liberty’s players acted like the play was over including the LU receiver standing right by the ball. Eventually, a North Texas player picked up the ball and ran it in for a touchdown. The call was reviewed on the field and the decision was made that Bennett’s arm had been moving forward but it was close and a North Texas score at that time would have put UNT up by 21 points and been a huge momentum shifter for an LU squad which was just starting to get back into the game. This kind of mistake can be eliminated by not assuming anything (key one) until the final whistle is blown.

This key is also symbolic though because, honestly, Liberty has often looked like they were just going through the motions, lacking drive, and not executing all the way through the play this season. This lack of follow-through has resulted in Liberty not finishing drives with touchdowns (only 71% touchdown percentage in the red zone), being outclassed in the offensive and even at times the defensive trenches, and numerous soft spots in the secondary. There may be a tendency in a game like this ahead of the biggest game of the season next week to pull one’s punches but Liberty cannot afford to allow themselves to slip back into the lethargic state that they seemed to awake from in the second half of the North Texas game.


A way of summarizing this in one succinct key would be to properly game manage Willis. Willis is supposedly 100% coming into this one after exiting the game last week with a foot injury and reportedly going to a medical facility before reentering the game midway through the third to pull off an impressive comeback win. However, even if Willis is 100% healthy (which seems unlikely) that doesn’t mean he isn’t vulnerable to re-injury, especially with his style of play and Liberty can not afford to lose their main offensive weapon going into next week’s game against Ole Miss.

At the same time, Willis is just coming out of quite a slump that saw him throw 6 interceptions and struggle at times to diagnose defenses or avoid pressure in his usual elusive fashion. Liberty can’t afford to allow Willis to get off track prior to the Ole Miss game and need him coming in on page with his offense and ready to go. It’s a classic catch-22 where Liberty doesn’t want to risk injuring their starting QB but also doesn’t want to get him out of sync with the normal offensive flow.

The best solution is to come out with LU’s normal offense and use Willis to the full extent of his abilities, QB draws, deep balls, RPOs, all of it, and then sit Willis at the earliest opportunity and bring in the backups to do the more slow-paced grind out the clock offense that Liberty likes to run with a lead. If Liberty executes this key properly, Willis should come into the Ole Miss game hot, Liberty won’t have to worry about overlooking UMass, and the game time that Willis could potentially risk injury will be limited. This may seem common sense but in the first few games of the season against weaker competition Freeze seemed to be limiting Willis’ ability to run to not just the detriment of the offense but also Willis who looked out of sync when Freeze finally gave him full reign. Likewise, Freeze has also elected to not just keep Willis in the game late in the third with a sizable lead but also to actively put him in danger with designed QB run plays. Making sure Liberty’s most important player comes into the Ole Miss game hot but in one piece will be the biggest key to Liberty’s success both this week and next.


There will certainly be the temptation to guard the playbook against this weaker opponent and run a simplified version of the offense against UMass so as to try and catch Ole Miss off guard next week. As this was Hugh Freeze’s tactic early in the season, I would not be surprised to see it run here. However, LU has gotten off to a very slow start this season and looked out of sync at almost every position and I believe Freeze’s tactic of guarding the playbook is much to blame.

The theory may have been sound but it definitely set the tone for the season and Liberty has struggled to climb out of the rut (also it didn’t seem to work as Syracuse managed to beat LU anyway). The best chance Liberty has of beating Ole Miss next week isn’t to try and cover up their playbook this week but to smash through UMass, rest their starters early, and come into Oxford with a massive amount of energy and momentum.

Momentum-shifting moments like the North Texas comeback win are awesome but they can easily be fleeting if not capitalized on immediately. I would look for LU to come in a little guarded in this one but after a bit of a slower than hoped for start, rise to the occasion with an inspired performance fueled by a team that has had enough of missed opportunities to demonstrate dominance. I think UMass’ abysmal offense (14.7 points per game) will not present much of a challenge to the LU defense and Liberty’s offense continues to build on the momentum found late in the second half against North Texas

FINAL SCORE PREDICTION: Liberty 49 vs UMass 10

Written by Mr. Exclamation Point