Liberty (3-0, 1-0 CUSA) defeated Buffalo (0-3, 0-0 MAC), 55-27, on Saturday afternoon in New York.
The Flames got on the scoreboard first thanks to a 39-yard field goal by Nick Brown on the opening possession of the game. Brown got the nod for the team at kicker as Teagen Lenderink is no longer on the roster after being the team’s starting kicker the first two weeks.
Liberty’s defense would hold the Bulls to three and outs on three of their first four possessions. During that time, the lead would grow to 17-0 for the Flames thanks to two touchdown passes by Kaidon Salter. He first connected with Treon Sibley on a 56-yard scoring play, and then found Elijah Smoot for a 42-yard score.
After a Tyren Dupree interception and Salter 24-yard completion to Sibley, the Liberty quarterback ran it in from one yard out to push the lead to 24-0.
Much like the season opener against Bowling Green, after grabbing an early 24-0 lead and feeling like the team would cruise to an easy victory, Liberty allowed Buffalo back into the game. The Bulls scored touchdowns on their final two drives of the first half, to bring the lead down to 24-14.
The Flames would turn the momentum back to the visiting team’s sidelines in the second half. Tyren Dupree had his second interception of the day on the third play from scrimmage after the intermission. Brown would then knock home a 35 yard field goal. Following a turnover on downs for the Bulls, Salter connected with Elijah Smoot for a second time on the day, this one coming from 33 yards out as the lead extended to 34-14 before the midway point of the second half. The team would coast to the victory from there.
PUTTING TEAMS AWAY
It has been textbook for Liberty early in the year under head coach Jamey Chadwell. The Flames got commanding 24-0 leads against both MAC opponents it has played this season, Bowling Green and Buffalo. In both, the opposing team has clawed their way back into it prior to halftime.
The team will need to work on putting teams away once getting a comfortable lead. It can be human nature to relax and take your foot off the gas with an early lead like that, but certainly the coaching staff will be emphasizing this moving forward.
It was good to see the team come out of the locker room in the halftime and score 10 quick points to extend the lead back to a three score game. The team did not slow down in the second half, cruising to the lopsided victory on the road to improve to 3-0 on the young season.
DEFENSE ANSWERS THE BELL
Opponents had their way with the Liberty defense, particularly on the ground, in the first two games of the season. Buffalo, despite trying, was unable to find any consistency on the ground. The Flames held them to 87 rushing yards on the day and add two more interceptions to Liberty’s season leading total.
The Flames forced three and outs on three of Buffalo’s first four offensive possessions. It was not until their final two drives of the first half that the Bulls were able to get in the scoring column. An interception and two turnover on downs is what the Liberty defense forced on three of the first four second half Buffalo possessions.
QUESTIONS AT RUNNING BACK MOVING FORWARD
Liberty running back Quinton Cooley did not play in the first quarter. After being the team’s top rusher the first two weeks, he was held out and looked like the team was planning on not using the former Wake Forest transfer and instead relying on Billy Lucas and Vaughn Blue.
That plan changed in the first half when true freshman running back Vaughn Blue went down to an injury. Blue fell on his left arm and shoulder and appeared to be grabbing at his shoulder before being helped to the sidelines. He immediately went into the medical tent and then was seen being carted off the field.
There is no immediate word on the severity of Blue’s injury, but as the Flames move forward, questions arise on the team’s depth at the position. Hopefully Cooley is healthy and ready to go, but if Blue is out for an extended period of time, look for Colorado transfer Victor Venn to get more opportunities in the backfield. We could also see Arkansas transfer James Jointer get more usage.
Liberty begins a stretch of 6 straight Conference USA games next week, staying on the road as the Flames head south to Miami to take on Florida International. The FIU Panthers are currently 2-1 on the season as they face UConn this afternoon. FIU opened the season with a CUSA loss to Louisiana Tech, 22-17, but have rebounded with wins over Maine (14-12) and North Texas (46-39).