The Liberty Flames (0-2) return home to face the Buffalo Bulls (1-1) on Saturday evening with kickoff scheduled for 6 p.m. from Williams Stadium and the game televised on ESPN+.
This is only the 2nd meeting ever between the two programs with the only previous meeting coming all the way back in 1998 when Liberty defeated Buffalo, 27-24, in overtime at Williams Stadium. Both programs were FCS Independent squads at the time. A lot has certainly changed since that time with the Bulls making the move to the FBS and joining the MAC while the Flames are now playing as an FBS Independent.
Buffalo is coming off perhaps its best season in school history, winning 10 games for the first time ever and advancing to the program’s third ever bowl game. They lost 20 seniors from that team as well as their star quarterback Tyree Jackson who left early for the NFL.
It’s hard to get a very accurate read on the 2019 Bulls as they have opened the season with a 38-10 win against FCS Robert Morris and then lost, 45-13, at #15 Penn State. Buffalo did lead the Nittany Lions, 10-7, at halftime before falling behind in the 3rd quarter.
As they adjust to life with a new starting quarterback, the Bulls want to the run the ball early and often. Their first 13 plays of the season were all run plays while 22 of their 29 first half offensive plays against Robert Morris were all rushes. The same was true against Penn State as 30 of 47 first half plays were runs. Fortunately for Buffalo, they have a very talented tandem in the backfield in Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks who have combined to rush for 300 yards on 65 carries in the first two games of the season.
“Very concerned,” Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze said of the Buffalo ground game after the Flames allowed over 400 yards of rushing to Louisiana last week. “Anytime you give up that many rushing yards, you’re not going to win very many games. We’re hopeful that we’re semi-full strength. If we are, I feel good about our chances in stopping the run like we did against Syracuse, but it matters that you have your team out there to do that. It’s a big concern.”
As we reported earlier in the week, the Flames are dealing with numerous injuries on the defensive side of the ball including DT Ralf Rusins, DT Elisha Mitchell, S Elijah Benton, LB Waylen Cozad, S Rion Davis, S JaVon Scruggs, and LB Brandon Tillmon.
The further the season goes on, the more experience redshirt-freshman Matt Myers will get at quarterback. He’s completed 21-of-41 passes for 314 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 1 interception in his first two starts. At 6’4″, Myers is a big quarterback that is primarily a pocket passer, but he is not scared to tuck the ball and run when he needs to.
At receiver, Antonio Nunn leads the way with 5 receptions for 133 yards. Buffalo also likes to use 6’6″ tight end Zac Lefebvre who has 4 receptions for 76 yards and 2 touchdowns. In fact, all three touchdown passes for Myers this season have gone to tight ends as Julien Bourassa caught a 6-yard score against Penn State.
“They love to throw to their tight ends,” Freeze stated. “They love to use their tight ends in the passing game which is kind of rare in this day and time.”
Head Coach Lance Leipold and Defensive Coordinator Brian Borland have been together since 2007 dating back to their time in the same roles at Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater. Together, they appeared in 5 straight National Championship games and 7 in 8 years while winning 6 national championships.
“You watch some of last year’s tapes and some of this year’s and they do what they do and they do it extremely well,” Freeze said of the Bulls’ defense.
LB James Patterson, twin brother of running back Jaret, is a leader of the defense. He started all 14 games as a true freshman in 2018 and finished second on the team with 77 tackles and a team best nine tackles for loss. Malcolm Koonce is a defensive end who likes to cause havoc in opponent’s backfields and safety Joey Banks leads the team through two games with 11 tackles.
“Defensively, they did lose some people from last year,” Freeze said. “I’m very impressed with #50 Malcolm Koonce. He’s a little undersized, but his technique is just phenomenal. He’s got great pass rush moves, has been really well coached. Joey Banks is their free safety. He’s always around the ball. He seems to be the captain of that defense making the call in the secondary.”
On special teams, Buffalo has lost their starting punter Evan Finegan after suffering a broken leg against Penn State. His replacement is backup quarterback Kyle Vantrease who averaged 25.5 yards on his two punts Saturday night.
“It is a tall challenge,” Freeze said of Saturday’s game. “I’m glad we have them at home. We desperately need to get some people healthy to have a chance to be in this game in the 4th quarter and have a chance to win. We need our fans to show up and support this football team as we continue our move into playing some of the top Group of 5 schools in the nation. I’m excited to be home, can’t wait to see how our team responds.”
- The Turner Gill Bowl! Turner Gill was the head coach at Buffalo from 2006-2009 and then at Liberty from 2012-2018. He led Buffalo to its first ever bowl appearance in 2008.
- This game marks the first time in program history Liberty has played host to a MAC opponent at Williams Stadium. The MAC becomes the 4th FBS conference to ever have one of its members play at Williams Stadium joining the ACC, C-USA, and Sun Belt.
- Buckshot needs 192 passing yards to join Josh Woodrum and Robby Justino as the only Flames to every throw for 9,000 yards during their career.
- Antonio Gandy-Golden is 4 receptions shy of moving into 3rd place in program history with career receptions and 106 receiving yards from passing Chris Summers for 2nd spot on Liberty’s all-time receiving list.
RB Frankie Hickson on being back at home – “We have to protect our house.”
OL Dontae Duff on the team’s mindset at 0-2 – “We’re not going to panic, that’s for sure. We’re in a situation right now where we’ve got to figure out a way to win. We’ve got the formula.”
S Ceneca Espinoza on the team’s 0-2 start – “We all know it’s a long season. We’re ready for this thing to go on a full 180 and get us on the right track and look for the best season possible. We’re ready to do all we can to make sure we have a winning season and get to that bowl game.”
Hugh Freeze on the offense and QB Buckshot Calvert – “Offensively, there’s a disconnect right now with Buckshot. I’m determined to get that fixed.”
Buffalo 28, Liberty 20
This game is crucial for Liberty’s bowl hopes. With 2 FCS games on the schedule, the Flames must win 7 games (if both FCS games are wins) to be bowl eligible. After this weekend’s game there are 9 games remaining, expecting Liberty to go 7-2 in those 9 games is hard to fathom.