The Liberty Flames improved to 5-1 this weekend, defeating Middle Tennessee, 41-13, on Saturday afternoon at Williams Stadium in Lynchburg, Virginia. The Flames face Louisiana-Monroe this week with kickoff scheduled for 7 p.m. at Malone Stadium in Monroe, Louisiana. Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze met with the media for his weekly press conference on Monday and here is everything he had to say beginning with his opening statement.
“The team meeting this morning, positives on special teams,” he said. “We netted 53.5 yards a punt which is the largest in my tenure year. I thought Max did an excellent job. They had one of the top returners in the country. We held them to three yards a return. I thought that was really well. Field goals/PATs, 100%. Kickoffs were really good by Barbir. Negatives on special teams, we had two penalties which is a reoccurring theme that is causing us to have some field position issues, and we missed eight tackles which is not really normal on the kickoff unit. Pretty solid game there.”
“Defense was really, really, really good. Created turnovers, the safety. One of the best plays in my coaching career probably was the hustle by Henry Chibueze on that play. That was phenomenal effort. That’s the effort it takes to be a great football team. 4th and short stop was big. Held them to 35 yards rushing which is incredible. 4 of 13 possessions were three and out which is pretty dang good. Three sudden changes and they stopped them twice. The only negative defensively was we gave up that 4th and 10 completion which that is a down we preach is a critical down. We’ve got to win that down. We weren’t great on 3rd and medium, but only had really one explosive play. That was really good.”
“Offensively, 10 explosives, which is good. We out-rushed our opponent pretty considerably. I thought we were really balanced, about the same passing, rushing. Averaged about 6 yards per attempt on the rush. We were 5 of 5 in the red zone. Turnovers were the huge deal, and then penalties which I thought cost us some 3rd down conversions. Had a nice screen set up to Shedro, we got a holding penalty called. A couple other deals, but really the big thing is the turnovers. That hasn’t been us all year. We will bounce back from that hopefully and not make those. Malik short-circuited, did not read the correct progression on the first one, which is not like him. Second one was just a little underthrown, was into the wind, a little underthrown. The third one I will take blame form. Schematically that play, which we’ve had a lot of success with, it doesn’t work in the set that we run it out of. Never run it out of that set in my whole career. Someone talked me into it and it’s my fault for listening. I knew better, and it’s my fault. That last interception is on me.”
“Thrilled to beat a solid MTSU team. I thought our crowd was incredible. I thought it was really, really good. It was exciting to be at home. I just think our crowd was really, really awesome. It was a good homecoming to see a lot of people back here.”
MARCUS HASKINS ELECTED TO TRANSFER, DID THAT CATCH YOU OFF GUARD?
“Nothing catches me much off guard any more. I think we live in a world where people are entitled to feel the way they feel, they have an idea what is best for them. I don’t agree with it sometimes, what people think is best about them. At the end of the day, he is a young adult. We wish him certainly the best. We loved having him here. Obviously, you never like to lose players, but that’s kind of the world we live in now. We wish him the best. It does lighten that room some, hopefully we can stay healthy there.”
YOU HAVE TWO TRUE FRESHMAN KICKERS THAT ARE PLAYING, HOW PLEASED HAVE YOU BEEN WITH HOW THEY HAVE STEPPED RIGHT IN?
“That is positive for us in the future. I believe I remember, it may have been our first fall camp practice or somewhere early in fall camp, me feeling excited about those young kickers, including Nick in it, also. I felt he performed well in it, also. To see them now carry that over into game two when they have been called on is real exciting for the future and positive.”
HOW DO YOU FEEL YOUR TEAM HAS ADAPTED TO NIL?
“I will tell you the God’s honest truth, I have no clue who has a name, likeness, image deal. Don’t want to know, don’t care to know, happy for them if they get them. If I saw them becoming a distraction in our locker room, I think I would probably try to get involved as much as I can. I think there are some rules in Virginia, I don’t think coaches are supposed to be involved in it. I honestly have no clue, that’s not true, I saw somewhere where our OLine has got some kind of a deal with some barbecue place or something. I don’t think it’s much of a deal, really. It didn’t sound like they were getting a whole lot. I don’t care to know, don’t want to know. Happy, not against it, happy if it happens for them, but I haven’t seen it become a distraction and hopefully that will continue to be the case.”
THE NCAA IS ALLOWING A ONE YEAR WAIVER TO ALLOW YOU TO SIGN 32 PLAYERS THIS YEAR, WHAT IS YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT?
“I think it’s absolutely one of the smarter things that those committees have done. I think in this world of the transfer portal, there’s no way that in one breath you can say we are all about the kid’s safety and health and all of that, but then ask a team because of the transfer portal to play below the scholarship limit. I hope they will continue to look into everything that needs to be adjusted. I think we as coaches would prefer you just say look you get to be at your 85 by August of the fall, I don’t quite understand why you don’t get to count transfers that happen during the season, that enter the portal, my understanding is it has to be on or after the early signing period which I’m not quite sure why that is. It’s definitely a good thing that we’re going to have the opportunity to replace some of those transfers.”
YOUR DEFENSE IS ONE OF THE TOP IN THE COUNTRY STATISTICALLY, HOW GOOD OF A JOB HAS SCOTT AND HIS STAFF DONE ON THAT SIDE OF THE BALL?
“The numbers speak for themselves, they don’t lie. I was clear when I first got here that there’s a couple things I was convinced of, if not already, when I sat out the two years and kind of studied the game and that is, I did this at Arkansas State and early at Ole Miss before it got very difficult at the end to recruit defensive guys at Ole Miss with the status we were under with the investigation on the NCAA stuff, but I just think you build a team around defense. The first priority was hire the right guys, and the second priority was get players. That’s where we have probably spent most of our time trying to improve the speed and length of our defense. Obviously, it speaks for itself the job that Scott, Josh, Rickey, Tanner, and Jack, and people before them that were with us. It’s a corporate effort there, but again they have done a tremendous job. It allows me on the other side to be really patient. A lot of times I don’t have to worry about stats, or let’s go get 500 yards or a certain number of points, let’s manage the game and win the game.”
HOW HAS MALIK RESPONDED TO THOSE TURNOVERS?
“We just got through meeting as an offensive unit. I go through every negative play with the entire staff, the entire team. Then I go through the explosives and say what went right and I show some effort plays too. There were some tremendous effort plays by Johnny Huntley, Jerome Jackson, the tight ends, all of those guys, Trevor Hobbs, they all had some outstanding effort plays. Malik, I mean, some of those plays he made were just phenomenal still. There were a lot of positives.”
“Obviously, I go through the negatives and I say what the truth is of it. I say if it was a bad call by me. I say if it was poor execution by the players, and I show them exactly why – this play should have worked, this play shouldn’t have worked it was a bad call. I call it just like it is. I think our kids respect that. No one owns the integrity of the film any better than Malik Willis. He came in my office afterwards. We were talking about several things, but he said, ‘it sure feels better to be sitting here Monday after a three turnover game than like NC State last year where you lose by a point and have turnovers.’ That’s what I told him, it’s over, let’s build on it. You know exactly why. You were supposed to read inside out on that first one and you didn’t. The second one, maybe the wind affected it some, it was an underthrown ball, and the guy made a really good play on it. The third one is on me, I shouldn’t have asked you to even have to read that play. He will be fine. He will move on. You just got to get those corrected and read through your progression on the one, but that was the issue.”
21 GAMES IN, DEMARIO HAS 1,000 RECEIVING YARDS, WHAT DO YOU THINK HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST STRIDE DEMARIO HAS MADE THIS YEAR?
“We believed in him since day one on the campus. His work ethic is incredible. I don’t know that he had to do anything, but just get the opportunities, because he prepares the way you are supposed to prepare. When others come in and want to have conversation with me about what do I need to do? I say prepare like Demario does every practice. His preparation, along with his talent. When I am teaching our themes, like I taught the one this morning, you don’t win the game or you don’t catch that number of balls on Saturday, you won it back on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday when you prepared. No one prepares any better than he does.”
WHAT TYPE OF CHALLENGES DOES ULM PRESENT?
“Every week is a challenge, whether it’s the injuries or COVID or whether it’s travel or whether it’s all that combined with a good opponent. This team is extremely athletic. Good gracious do they bring pressure. Probably a higher percentage, I thought Middle was really high, this team is even higher. We struggle some with that. They held Kentucky to 130 yards rushing, which was impressive. Beating Troy was shocking to me because I thought Troy was really, really good on defense. Obviously, a difficult loss to Georgia State last week, Coastal is a really good team.”
“I think playing at Monroe is a tougher task than a lot of places. Our kids will be hearing and listening to you should win, you’re this, you’re that. To me, this game signifies a possible six win to get bowl eligible in our third straight season which is a goal of mine every year. It is really, really important. We should prepare accordingly to go be tested by a very athletic and veteran coaching staff.”
“I have great respect for Terry Bowden, Tommy Bowden, and obviously that whole family. You know he knows how to win football games and prepare a team. Then, Rich Rod is a guy I have had respect for for a long time that’s one of the best offensive minds. We’ve got to prepare to go play a very athletic football team.”
HOW WELL DO YOU KNOW TERRY?
“I know Terry fairly well. It’s not like we are great friends that talk all the time, but I did talk to him when he was at Akron and having success. Then, when it ended, we talked several times about what his next steps were and what his thinking was. He’s been very helpful and friendly throughout the years. I think a lot of the way they combine faith and football. I have a lot of respect for him and his family.”
WHAT IS THE UPDATE ON THE INJURY FRONT?
“Man, the list is so long I can’t go through it it would take the rest of the day it seems. We’ve got a long laundry list of injuries. Hopefully we will get some kids back, and hopefully some of those ankles will be able to go. We will get the clarity on Quinton (Reese) later today, but it looks like it could be something that’s not good for him. I just hate that. He’s an incredible teammate and a heck of a player too. I want to wait and make sure I’m right on that.”