Coming off back-to-back losses to nationally-ranked opponents, Liberty (7-4) will close out its 2021 regular season by hosting fellow FBS Independent squad Army (7-3) at Williams Stadium for the first time. Kickoff is scheduled for noon from Williams Stadium in Lynchburg, Virginia and will be streamed on ESPN+.
Liberty, which has won its last three meetings with FBS Independent teams, is seeking its first-ever victory over Army. The Black Knights posted a 38-14 home win over Liberty on Sept. 8, 2018 in the only previous head-to-head matchup. Army racked up 449 rushing yards, handing Liberty its first loss as an FBS program.
Jeff Monken is in his eighth season as Army’s head coach, and he has built the program into one of the more established non-Power Five teams in the country. Under Monken’s leadership, the Black Knights have appeared in a bowl game in four out of the past five seasons and have won nine or more games in three of those years.
Army raced out to a 4-0 record to begin the season, beginning with a dominant performance as a road underdog in the season opener at Georgia State, dismantling the Panthers, 43-10. From there, the Black Knights defeated Western Kentucky, UConn, and Miami (OH). Army then hit a cold patch as their starting quarterback missed time due to an injury. They lost three straight games beginning with a loss at Ball State followed by losses at Wisconsin (20-14) and at home to Wake Forest in a wild game, 70-56. From there, the Black Knights have rebounded to win three straight games against Air Force, Bucknell, and UMass entering Saturday’s game against Liberty.
Army ranks No. 2 nationally with 309.4 rushing yards per game. The Black Knights will be the fourth team among the nation’s top seven rushing offenses Liberty has faced in 2021. The Flames previously met North Texas (No. 4), Ole Miss (No. 6), and Syracuse (No. 7), going 1-2 in those three matchups.
Starting quarterback Christian Anderson leads the Army triple option attack. As mentioned, he has dealt with injuries throughout the season, playing in eight of the team’s 10 games. The Black Knights are 7-1 in the games Anderson plays in, as he missed the Ball State and Wisconsin games. Anderson has completed 18 of his 40 passing attempts this season for 443 yards, 4 touchdowns, and no interceptions, but, as is typical in an option style attack, he is most effective on the ground. Anders has 83 rushing attempts for 513 yards and 6 touchdowns.
His back, Tyhier Tyler, has also appeared in eight games. Tyhier leads the team with 100 rushing attempts, gaining 424 yards and seven touchdowns. Tyler has also completed two of six passes for 65 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception.
There are a number of backs that Army utilizes in their offense. Jakobi Buchanan is 6’0″, 260 pounds, and, as you could imagine, is their primary ball carrier in short yardage situations. Behind Tyler, Buchanan has the most rushing attempts on the team with 89 for 332 yards and a team-leading eight touchdowns.
Anthony Adkins has 70 rushes for 345 yards and five touchdowns. He is more of the all-purpose back at 6’1″, 245 pounds. Tyrell Robinson, at 5’9″ and 180 pounds, has 57 rushing attempts for a team-leading 560 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The offense gets all the attention, but Army’s defense has been one of the best in the country this season. The Black Knights rank No. 14 in total defense (318.2 yards per game) and No. 16 in rush defense (109.7 yards per game). And those numbers include the Wake Forest game where the Demon Deacons scored 70 points and allowed 638 yards of total offense.
“I truthfully don’t know that I’ve ever put on a tape, and I watched a ton of tape yesterday and this morning, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a team that plays harder than they do,” Freeze said on Monday of the Black Knights. “That’s a great testament to the character of their team and their coaches. Defensively, when you look at them holding Wisconsin to 20 points and other teams like Georgia State, who has some really good players, to low point totals of the year, their defense is really talented. 34, I think, leads the nation in sacks. They are not just an offensive team, for sure, they play really quality defense.”
Freeze is exactly right. No. 34, Andre Carter leads the nation in sacks with 13.5 on the season and he ranks fourth in the country with 15 tackles for loss. The 6’7″, 250 pound outside linebacker also has four forced fumbles, three quarterback hurries, two PBU’s, and one interception.
“They are in the right spots and how hard they play,” said Freeze. “They may not be the most athletic team that you might see, but man they play with a physicality and extremely passionate. They don’t get out of position pretty much at all. You really have to drive the field without making mistakes. Then, converting in the red zone has been very difficult for people too because of the way they play. They have a great scheme. Woody’s been a great coordinator a lot of places. He is doing a great job with their scheme and then their kids just play extremely hard, tackle extremely well too.”
Nate Woody is Army’s defensive coordinator that Freeze alluded to. He has previously been a defensive coordinator at Wofford, Appalachian State, and Georgia Tech.
- The Flames have won four consecutive Senior Day contests and are 13-2 in their last 15 Senior Day games. Liberty is averaging 48.3 points per game during its current four-game Senior Day winning streak.
- Despite having its program record 15 game hone winning streak snapped by Louisiana last week, Liberty is 20-3 at Williams Stadium as an FBS program, including 15-2 under Hugh Freeze. Liberty has won each of its last 12 home games against unranked FBS opponents. The last unranked team to beat Liberty at Williams Stadium was North Texas on Sept. 22, 2018.
- This is the third straight season Liberty is hosting a fellow FBS independent team for the Flames’ regular season finale following visits from New Mexico State in 2019 and UMass in 2020. The Flames are scheduled to close out their tenure as an FBS independent squad with a home matchup against New Mexico State on Nov. 26, 2022.
- Since joining the FBS, Liberty is 6-4 against Independents, including 3-1 against New Mexico State and UMass and 0-1 against both Army and BYU.
- Liberty ranks 13th in the nation in total defense (314.7) followed in 14th by Army (317.4).
- The Flames finish the season facing three straight teams who played in 2020 bowl games in Ole Miss (Outback Bowl), Louisiana (ServPro First Responder Bowl), and Army (AutoZone Liberty Bowl).
- Liberty freshman quarterback Nate Hampton is the younger brother of Army junior linebacker Peyton Hampton.
- Army is the fifth opponent on this year’s schedule which the Flames faced in their inaugural FBS season of 2018. Liberty went 2-3 that year against Old Dominion, Army, North Texas, Troy, and UMass. Liberty is looking for a perfect 5-0 record against those teams this season with a win on Saturday.
Hugh Freeze on playing a service academy – “After the game we will be sure to tell them how much we appreciate their mission, their commitment to our country, but prior to the game it’s another game that we have to get prepared for to play a very good football team whether they are a service academy or not. We’ve been pretty consistent in that for the most part of our three years. We’re going to have to be that this Saturday to compete with this team. But certainly, after the game, I hope that we can make them feel like we appreciate them for sure because their ultimate mission goes way beyond football.”
DC Scott Symons on Army’s offense – “I’ve been fortunate thus far being able to work at an option school, we’ve played the Georgia Southerns, part of the reason I got hired at Memphis was our option background. The foundation (of our defense) is there. They are extremely multiple. Getting lined up to all their formations, it’s kind of similar to Louisiana Lafayette (in how much they shifted). These guys are the same way, the ability to formation you, get your eyes in the wrong spot, and then they have explosive plays. They are an option offense but it is more zone dive and Q outside zone sweep than you find really true veer or even triple option when you look at them. They are physical. They are going to get those low stances, they are going to root you out, drive you off. They are perfectly fine getting four yards every play.”
Ben Alexander on senior day – “It hasn’t really hit me yet. I feel like when I walk out there it will probably hit. It’s been a blessing to be here and compete and have these great guys around me. Probably going to hit more when we get to the field on Saturday.”
Ralfs Rusins on senior day – “Weird, definitely weird. I’ve been thinking it was going to be my last game for like three years now, and every year I’ve been told that I have one more season, but this time I don’t think it’s going to be like that. The feeling hasn’t set in yet that it’s going to be the last one. I think closer to Saturday and after Saturday it will set in. I think it will be exciting but also a kind of sad moment for me.”
Kevin Shaa on senior day – “I think it’s going to be real emotional for me. My last home game here at Liberty, could possibly be the last home game of my football career. A lot of things will be running through my mind. I’m just going to try to live in the moment and not dwell on everything. Just have fun with it. This might be my last home game ever, so I’m going to try to have fun with it for as long as I can.”
Liberty 28, Army 21
The Flames will look to end the regular season on a high note and get to an eighth win for a third consecutive season under head coach Hugh Freeze.