The Liberty football team got back in the win column by dispatching Robert Morris, 41-7 on Saturday night. Buckshot Calvert made his first career start and set a school record in the process. He threw for 340 yards, the most by a freshman making his first career start besting Josh Woodrum’s 322 passing yards at Montana in 2012.
Buckshot Calvert: The true freshman quarterback made his first career start, and he set a school record for most passing yards by a freshman in his first career start. Calvert threw for 340 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Dante Shells: 170 receiving yards and a touchdown. He’s scored a touchdown in 4 straight games. The only game Shells hasn’t scored a touchdown in this year was against Virginia Tech. He actually had a touchdown in that game that was overturned on replay.
Juwan Wells: Wells finished with 12 tackles and 2 sacks. This is becoming the norm for the defensive end from Georgia.
RANKING THE TOP PLAYS FROM THE GAME
- At the beginning of the 2nd quarter, with the score knotted at 7, the Colonials had driven into the red zone as they looked to retake the lead. Chris Turner had other thoughts. Liberty’s cornerback played perfect defense in intercepting Andrew Romanchak’s pass in the end zone. Turner turned towards the ball to make a play, timed his jump perfectly to deflect the pass, and as he was falling he reeled in the deflected ball all while getting a foot down in bounds before falling out of bounds. #SCTop10 worthy play.
- Liberty went up by 2 scores for the first time late in the 2nd quarter when Buckshot connected with Dante Shells on a beautiful 69-yard touchdown pass.
- Alex Probert made his first career field goal attempt longer than 50 yards when he connected on a 51 yard attempt early in the fourth quarter.
- Two plays into the 2nd half, Solomon McGinty jumped Robert Morris’ route for his 2nd interception this season. McGinty was able to walk into the end zone for the pick 6.
- True freshman to true freshman for the score! Calvert hit Antonio Gandy-Golden on a quick out, and Gandy-Golden tightroped the sideline as he scored his first career touchdown. That’s a connection we’re sure to see many times over the next 4 years.
WHAT IT MEANS
After struggling to a 1-3 start, including the worst home loss in Gill’s tenure, a feel-good win was much needed headed into the bye week before conference play begins. It wasn’t a perfect performance by any means, but the offense, led by a true freshman making his first career start, showed promise. The defense started slow, but turned it on in the 2nd quarter en route to another multiple takeaway day.
While Buckshot showed his potential, the offensive line and running game continues to come up short. The Flames finished the game with 72 rushing yards on 30 carries, which is an average of 2.4 yards per rush. The Colonials’ defense has been impressive against the run early this season, holding two opponents under 100 rushing yards in their first 4 games. Yet, the only team to rush for less yards against RMU this season was Division II Malone. Starting left tackle Tanner Hartman and starting left guard Ethan Crawford were scratches from the lineup on Thursday, forcing Coach Gill to have a new starting offensive line again.
The defense had 3 interceptions against Robert Morris, and Robert Wimberly’s squad continues to showcase their ability to force turnovers. Every game this season they have at least 2 takeaways. The 15 total takeaways on the season ranks 3rd in all of FCS, and the defense is doing it in multiple ways with multiple guys contributing to the takeaway total.
The bye week comes at the perfect time for this year’s squad. Liberty is dealing with several bumps and bruises. In addition to Hartman and Crawford who missed the game against Robert Morris, running back Todd Macon and cornerback Jeremy Peters were also in street clothes Saturday night. Gill mentioned afterward that they could have forced both Macon and Peters to play if needed, but elected to hold them with the bye week looming.
The off week will also give the offense, behind newly minted starter Calvert, the opportunity to watch plenty of film and get a lot of reps as they continue to shore up their timing. It will also be interesting to see if offensive coordinator Joe Dailey installs a package of plays for Stephon Masha to utilize his skills. Masha came into the game for the final two drives against RMU, and the Flames utilized the read option several times with him. He even held onto the ball and rushed twice on his 8 snaps.
The next several weeks have a lot riding on them. Mounting pressure on the program makes it feel like it is playoffs or bust for this regime. The only way to the playoffs is by clinching the auto-bid, and with only 5 conference games, there’s no room for error. 2nd year program Kennesaw State looms in two weeks, and the Owls present some problems. Liberty has lost 5 straight road contests, and they haven’t won a Big South road game since the 2014 Coastal game. Kennesaw State is 3-1 on the year. The Owls face Division II Missouri S&T next week, and they are coming off a 52-42 road win at Furman. KSU has certainly circled the Liberty game on their schedule as they look to prove to the FCS and Big South world that they have arrived.
BY THE NUMBERS
340 | Buckshot threw for a school record (as mentioned above) 340 passing yards. Stephon Masha has 327 passing yards on the season.
170 | Dante Shells had 170 receiving yards against Robert Morris. The senior receiver set his career high for receiving yards.
72 | Liberty finished the game with 72 rushing yards. It’s the 4th time in 5 games this season and 11th time in the last 15 games that Liberty has finished under 100 rushing yards.
51 | True freshman Alex Probert connected on a 51-yard field goal. It is the longest of his young career.
3-of-14 | The Flames continue to struggle on 3rd down, converting on just 3 of 14 opportunities.
THEY SAID IT
Flames head coach Turner Gill on Buckshot’s first start:
“Proud of him. Great job by Coach Dailey, and, obviously, Steve Calvert there. He has a very accurate arm, he showed that. He made some good throws. He took care of the ball. There were some times where he pulled the ball down, and he noticed there were some things not there, as far as not throwing the ball for an interception. It’s great to see him, in one game, to make those adjustments because they did a lot of post-snap reads. It was great to see him take care of the football, and that’s what we talked about. Take care of the football, you’re going to make your throws when you have to, but take care of the football. I’m really proud of him from that standpoint. He took care of the football, he moved our offense, and that’s what we wanted him to do. He showed that he can throw the football and throw it fairly well.”
Flames head coach Turner Gill on the constant rotation of offensive linemen:
“I guess the good thing about it is, we have played quite a bit of offensive lineman. So, they’ve gotten a lot of experience, and I guess as we move forward, we feel good about if they have to play they will be good because they have played quite a bit of reps. So, that’s the good thing about playing a lot of offensive lineman.”
Quarterback Buckshot Calvert on being the starter:
“It’s truly a blessing. My mentality is just working hard and doing whatever’s best for the team.”
Defensive end Juwan Wells on continually causing havoc on teams’ backfields:
“Like coaches always say, film study is key. You pick up little tendencies that the offensive line may give you. As the game goes on, if you’re a good player, you can cheat the snap count. You start picking up on the play-calling. So, I think I just start picking up on the play-calling. I try to make as many plays as I can for my team.”
Safety Solomon McGinty on the offense’s increased productivity:
“The defense started off slow, so, it came back on us. We can’t start off slow no matter what type of game it is. We have guys on offense that can make plays, and this is going to be our offense for the rest of the season. There’s belief on our side of the ball. No matter what, we have to go out there and get the ball back for our offense.”
Wide receiver Dante Shells on Buckshot’s performance:
“If you ask me, he did awesome to me. Not too many things discourage me. He just goes out there, and just plays. He doesn’t really worry about making mistakes. I like to see that in a quarterback. If he doesn’t do something good, he doesn’t hang his head. He’s basically the leader of our team, of our offense. So, we always need that in our quarterback, just stay calm and get the job done. He knows that he can get the job done.”