FLAMES MUST LEARN HOW TO PLAY AS HEAVY FAVORITE
The first three games of the 2022 season were against three difficult opponents. Liberty was an underdog in two of those games and less than a touchdown favorite on the road in the season opener. Now, after the team’s best performance of the early season despite being a loss, Liberty returns home to face Akron where the Flames are roughly a four touchdown favorite.
“We’ve had three very difficult battles, games that were 50-50 games at the end that could have gone either way,” said Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze. “We’re beat up. Physically tired and here we are coming back home to play a team that’s lost two games by large margins. You better look at who they played. They played two really, really good football teams in that. It’s a cross roads. How will we handle coming off a loss, disappointing loss, returning home to play a team that everyone should say you should beat them, you should beat them, you should beat them. Well, you’ve got to earn it.”
FLAMES PREPARING TO FACE FORMER RB RECRUIT
This week against Akron, Liberty will be facing an opponent with a running back the Flames’ coaching staff flirted with just a few months ago. Cam Wiley played three seasons at Minnesota before decided to enter his name into the transfer portal after the 2021 season. Liberty was looking for a plug and play prospect at running back and they checked in with Wiley before ultimately electing to go with Dae Dae Hunter.
“Yeah, I really liked Cam,” said Freeze. “I flew into Minnesota, one of the coldest days I can every remember recruiting. Met with him, same day I met with Austin (Henderson) who came with us. I really like Cam. Very mature, big, good looking kid who can run. We chose ultimately Dae Dae, but man he was a good player.”
In 3 seasons with the Golden Gophers, Wiley had 46 rushing attempts for 215 yards and a touchdown. So far this season, through three games, he has 118 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns on 38 carries to go along with 11 receptions for 50 yards.
SIBLEY, LOUIS PLAYING AGAINST TEAM THEY ORIGINALLY SIGNED WITH
Similarly to Wiley, Liberty has two players on its current roster that originally signed with Akron out of high school. WR Treon Sibley and RB Shedro Louis each signed with the Zips in February 2018. They were each non–qualifiers and never enrolled at the school. Just a few months later, in December 2018 less than two weeks after Freeze was hired at Liberty, Sibley and Louis signed with the Flames.
Sibley is originally from Akron, Ohio. Over the past few seasons, Sibley has bounced back and forth between running back and wide receiver. He has seen most of his playing time on special teams and recently at receiver.
Akron was Louis’ only Division I offer originally out of high school. Originally, from Immokalee, Florida, Louis has become a steady performer for the Flames in the running back room and as a kick returner.
LIBERTY SHOWS PROGRAM IMPROVEMENT AGAINST ACC OPPONENTS
Located in the heart of Central Virginia, Liberty University resides in ACC Country. Virginia and Virginia Tech are the two premier universities in the Commonwealth and they have had successful football teams and athletic programs. The Flames have always played in the shadow of the Cavaliers and Hokies, as well as other ACC schools.
Over the past couple of seasons under Hugh Freeze, Liberty has proven how far it has come as a football program with the way it has competed with ACC teams. After dropping its first straight contests against ACC opponents, Liberty has won two out of its last five with those three losses coming by a combined five points, including last Saturday’s loss, 37-36, at No. 18 Wake Forest.
“I said when I came here that I want us to put a product on the field that is very competitive with the given schedules that we have,” Freeze said earlier this week. “I don’t know that that’s possible every single game for the last three years but there’s been very few that we didn’t compete in. That’s something I’m proud of. I think we should have won, heck out of the five, we should have won Syracuse last year, I say should, we easily could have won those games.”
“But I think it gives our fans and our people something, if they understand the big picture of where Liberty has come in a few short years in the FBS world, three bowl wins and competitive against schools like that, I think it should give them reason to come support us. Let’s grow the support. Hopefully we are putting a product on the field that they are excited to watch. I think it’s certainly a positive. Would we have liked to have won those games? Yes, but certainly to be in them I think says positive things.”
In addition to the Kaidon Salter injury news where he is not expected to play Saturday, as only reported on ASOR, the Flames have several that are expected to be a game time decision Saturday against Akron.
“There are several on our team that’s going to be game time decision,” Freeze said on Thursday following practice. “That’s the typical week that we have, we’ve got several that will be game time decisions.”
Starting LG Jacob Bodden appeared to injure his shoulder in the first half of last week’s game against Wake Forest and he did not return. Bodden was going through drills during Tuesday’s open portion of practice but he appeared to be limited. Starting LT Naasir Watkins left the Wake Forest game early with a knee injury. He was not at practice on Tuesday.
“We need Reggie (Young) and Harry (Hayes) to step up and play really well,” Freeze said of the offensive linemen, especially if Bodden and Watkins are unable to go. “We’re trying to redshirt Chase Mitchell. He can play in four games, really trying to get through this game without him. Really need Harry and Reggie to play really well for us there, hopefully we can get through this game playing 7-8 guys.”
Safety Javon Scruggs missed this past week’s game at Wake Forest for undisclosed reasons. He was back at practice this week as a full participant Tuesday and is expected to be ready to go against Akron.
Running backs Shedro Louis and TJ Green were both at practice on Tuesday and did not appear to be limited. Louis injured his ankle in the first quarter against Wake Forest and did not return to the game. Green suffered an injury to his left leg or knee during the preseason. He has not played yet this season, but traveled with the team and was available if needed this past week. He had a heavy brace on his left leg on the sidelines in Winston-Salem and again had it supported during Tuesday’s practice.
Wide receiver CJ Daniels did not appear to be limited during Tuesday’s practice. Daniels has yet to play this season after tearing his ACL on the first day of spring practice in early March.