Liberty is back in action this Saturday to take on ULM at 7 p.m. EST in a game carried on ESPN+. The Flames will be looking to become bowl eligible for a third straight season and get to 6-1 on the season. On Thursday, Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze met with the media to give his final update prior to kickoff. Here are the main takeaways from his media session.
TEAM HAS FELT SLUGGISH THIS WEEK
Coach Freeze mentioned that it felt like the team was a bit sluggish during practice this week. Over the past two seasons, the Flames have shifted their weekly practice schedule during the season to practice in the morning as opposed to the afternoons. Freeze alluded to that possibly playing a factor this week.
“It’s been a challenging week,” he said. “One of the fears I’ve always had, in talking to other coaches, you get to the midway point and you’re a morning practice team, sometimes you feel like your team has been sluggish. I think we are kinda hitting that point. There are some studies out that shows there is a cycle that happens and it will come back around in a week or so, I hope. We’re not the only team that is going through that. It’s been a little sluggish not bud just a little sluggish. We need to have a great day today.”
HARDING RETURNS TO ULM
Liberty linebacker Rashaad Harding transferred to Liberty from Louisiana-Monroe prior to the spring semester. He will return to face his former team. Freeze was asked on Thursday about the process he went through to get Harding to Liberty.
“It became obvious he was a kid we had great interest in,” Freeze stated. “Then, it turned to let’s get to know him and recruit him. I thought he was an extremely mature kid from the first conversation on. Just was really impressed with what he wanted in the next move, that’s what drew me to him. Obviously, he was a good enough player, but thought he was the type of kid we wanted in that room also.”
TREON SIBLEY’S EMERGENCE AT WR
Treon Sibley was one of the first recruits Freeze targeted in his hiring at Liberty, as he made him part of his first recruiting class in February 2019. Sibley began as a running back but was quickly rotated to receiver. He spent his first year in the program on the scout team and made the transition to being a key part of the special teams units. Now, he’s become a mainstay on the field on Saturday’s at receiver for the Flames.
In last year’s game against Louisiana-Monroe, Sibley had a breakout game with a blocked punt that resulted in a Liberty touchdown and also recovering a fumble by the punter in the end zone for another score.
“Really proud of him,” Freeze said of Sibley. “He really had no idea how to go about working and preparing when he got here. He’s spent his time on scout team and working his way into the special teams rotation. We’ve had some injuries obviously at receiver, but he’s deserving of (the playing time) and has really improved himself just by working. He went to work, kept a good attitude even when he didn’t get the time, went about his work and has improved himself thus it’s equating to playing time.”
RICH ROD’S OFFENSE
Liberty and Freeze are set to go up against an offense led by offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez. Rodriguez made a name for himself as a brilliant offensive mind from his time as head coach at West Virginia which he parlayed into the head coaching job at Michigan. He is now in his first season at ULM, and the Flames will have to be prepared for everything a Rich Rod offense can do.
“We’ve been friends, acquaintances for years,” Freeze said of he and Rodriguez. “On the Nike trip that we used to go on, it seemed I would always gravitate towards him or vice versa and us talking ball. He’s got the whole package – whether it’s the sprint-out RPOs which is something not many people do. I don’t know how to do that, but he does. It’s feast or famine, but it can be explosive for sure. Plus the pocket RPOs. He’s got really three different quarterbacks he can use. One is really twitchy and fast, and one is a pocket passer, the other is kind of a combination. He’s used all three. He formations you, motions you, tempos you. It’s the same stuff he’s done for years.”
One area Liberty has struggled in at times this season is keeping a clean pocket and allowing Malik Willis the time to throw. It has resulted in an increased number of sacks from a season ago. Freeze mentioned in his press conference on Monday that ULM is a defense that likes to bring pressure more frequently than any other team Liberty has faced so far this season.
“You’ve got to have enough numbers to match theirs or you have a problem,” Freeze said of the game plan to combat the expected pressure ULM will bring on Saturday. “So, you have to judge when you want to max protect or not max protect and what’s the answer if you don’t max protect. Malik has to set the protections correctly, know where he’s not protected so if they do bring one more than you can block he knows where it’s coming from. When he does that, he’s pretty good, that first one doesn’t usually get him. It’s part of the normal game plan we go through.”