When Coach Freeze met with the media on February 23rd, just minutes after Liberty had concluded its first spring practice of the 2019 season, much of the focus of the interview session was on the offense learning Freeze’s offensive system. He said then that the offensive installation would be one of his biggest priorities for spring ball. Now, after 15 spring practices, Freeze is pleased with where his offense is.
“We’ve got enough in to win games,” Freeze said. “Now it becomes, ‘do we have the understanding to know exactly what should happen post snap with the ball?’ We’re still not there yet, but we’ve got so much good tape that I think the film sessions we will have in the summer, that are allowed, are big. We don’t have everything in, but we have enough to win a game if we can execute it.”
Freeze has long been considered one of the brightest and most innovative offensive minds in college football. During his 6 seasons as head coach between stops at Arkansas State and Ole Miss, his offenses have finished in the top 51 of all FBS teams in total offense every year. In 4 of 6 seasons, Freeze-led offenses finished in the top 26. There were similar rankings for those teams’ passing offense and scoring offense numbers, with the passing offense finishing in the top 50 all 6 years and scoring offense finishing in the top 50 4 out of 6 seasons.
Freeze and his staff take over a Liberty offense that ranked 46th in 2018 in total offense, 33rd in passing offense and 34th in scoring offense. It’s a unit that returns several key pieces including quarterback Buckshot Calvert and wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden.
“This offense has worked at every stop I’ve been at, whether it was Lambuth, Arkansas State, or Ole Miss,” Freeze said earlier this spring. “You average 30-40 points in the leagues we’ve coached in, it’s proven that it works.”
The biggest key to the puzzle is at quarterback. The Flames welcome back 4th year starter Buckshot Calvert who is on the verge of rewriting the school record book for all passing numbers. He’s been able to operate with the same quarterback coach and offensive coordinator his first 3 years, but entering his 4th and final season he will be required to learn a new offense under new coaches.
His quarterback coach is longtime CFL quarterback and coach Kent Austin. Austin has had a long and successful career spanning the course of several decades. He’s also coached one of the best quarterbacks to ever play in the CFL in Damon Allen.
“Kent Austin is one of the best quarterback coaches I know,” Freeze said. “He is so much more gifted at that than I am. I have no doubt that Kent will get (Buckshot) where he needs to be.”
Calvert finished 2018 throwing for over 3,000 yards with 21 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, a number he’s sure to want to decrease this season.
“Everywhere they’ve been, they’ve been looked at as a great coach, a legend,” Buckshot said of Freeze and Austin. “Learning under their wings and learning as much as I can, will truly help me in the long run.”
During fall camp, a position to keep an eye on is the backup quarterback battle, particularly after redshirt-junior Mason Cunningham elected transfer late in the spring season. True freshman and early enrollee Johnathan Bennett turned heads during the spring game and the backup spot looks to be his to lose. Other quarterbacks on the roster include Landon Brown, Henry Van Dellen, Brandon Robinson, and this summer the Flames will add preferred walk-on Will Bowers.
“JB took a step forward in the spring game,” Freeze said of Bennett. “He definitely has put himself in a good position. Landon had a couple good days, as did Henry. We’ve got a walk-on coming in that I think can throw it too so that battle will stay open. We’ve got 4 weeks of fall camp before we’ll really decide who 2 and 3 are, and it may be a 2a and a 2b and one’s a better thrower and one’s a better runner.”