The Liberty Flames dropped their 2nd straight game to fall to 4-5 on the season following a 45-24 loss at Virginia, the first ever meeting between the two programs.
WHAT IT MEANS
Through the first half, and even deep into the 3rd quarter, Liberty went toe to toe with the ACC Cavaliers. The Flames looked like they belonged on that stage – against an in-state, Power 5 opponent. We weren’t outmatched, or really outlasted. Liberty was able to cover the spread of 23.5, losing by 21, but the game was really much closer than that, and it was decided by a few key plays.
At the end of the day, the offense couldn’t keep pace with the Cavs. There were a couple of key 4th down decisions made that proved costly. The first came on Liberty’s 2nd drive of the game. With the score tied at 7, the Flames were facing a 3rd and 5 at the UVA 34 yard line. Coach Gill called a timeout with the play clock running low to ensure his team had the right play call. After the timeout, the call was a 10 yard slant to DJ Stubbs across the middle of the field. He was wide open, Buckshot’s ball was a little high and behind him though he still should have caught the pass. On 4th down, Gill called on Alex Probert to attempt a 51 yard field goal into the wind, just his 2nd field goal attempt of the season with the previous one coming from just 21 yards. The kick was about 7 yards short and 10 yards wide right.
The 2nd questionable 4th down call came in the 3rd quarter with Liberty trailing 31-24 and about 8 minutes left. The Flames faced a 4th and less than 1 at its own 14 yard line. Gill elected to go for it this time. The call was a run-pass option for Buckshot depending on how Virginia’s defense lined up. With the Cavs stacking the box, Buckshot elected for the 5 yard out to AGG. The pass was broken up, and just a few plays later Virginia took a 2 score lead.
With the way Liberty’s defense has performed so far this season, and with UVA scoring on 5 of its first 6 possessions, it’s easy to understand why Gill was more aggressive on 4th downs. It shows that he didn’t trust his defense to get a stop, and understandably so. With the offense feeling like it has to score on every possession to just stay in the game, it puts a ton of pressure on that unit. Perhaps that added pressure could be one reason why Buckshot has 9 interceptions in his last 3 games. Yes, he has forced some throws into tough coverage, but he feels like he has to make a play on every possession.
Peytton Pickett and Frankie Hickson had terrific afternoons, rushing for over 200 yards between them. The job that new running back coach Mike Brown and offensive line coach Aaron Stamn has done with those two units is remarkable. The Flames have had success this season with all 4 running backs that have had opportunities.
Being competitive in games like this are crucial for the team’s success at the FBS level and for brand awareness. The press box set up is unique at Scott Stadium, with it being an open air venue just one row behind the Virginia faithful. At one point, a Virginia fan made a comment about Liberty’s mascot – “what are they? The Falcons or Eagles?” That’s pretty alarming for two FBS schools that are just 60 miles away from each other. Liberty will make the trip to Charlottesville again in 2019 and 2020.
Liberty immediately turns around to face its 2nd Power 5 opponent of the season, as the Flames head to SEC country to take on Auburn. The Tigers are 6-4 on the season and are coming off a 27-10 loss at #5 Georgia. This game is sandwiched between two top 5 opponents for Auburn, as they are set to face #1 Alabama on November 24th.
This will be Liberty’s first ever meeting with an SEC opponent. Auburn is currently a 28.5 point favorite. The game will be televised on SEC Network Alternate.
As we’ve discussed before, Liberty needs two more FBS wins to set themselves up with an opportunity to get a bowl bid if there are not enough bowl qualifying teams. FBS teams are able to use 1 FCS win as an FBS qualifying win towards bowl eligibility. With only two FBS games left, Liberty must beat Auburn and New Mexico State next week.
BY THE NUMBERS
389 | Virginia had 389 yards of total offense, just the 2nd time this season the Flames have held an opponent under 500 yards of total offense.
117 | Peytton Pickett had his best game in a Liberty uniform to date, rushing for 117 yards on 17 carries.
41.2 | Virginia averaged 41.2 yards per kick return. The Cavaliers had 5 returns on the day that totaled 206 return yards, including one that was returned for a touchdown.
3 | Buckshot Calvert had 3 interceptions on the afternoon, his 3rd straight game with multiple picks.
THEY SAID IT
Flames head coach Turner Gill on the team’s performance:
“I really thought we had a great chance to do some things, had some good situations. Unfortunately, we didn’t make enough plays. I thought our defense there in the second half played some good football. (Virginia) has some good football players on their team. Their quarterback is a really good football player. He can definitely run the football. He can definitely throw the football.”
Gill on the decision to go for it on 4th and 1 at own 14 yard line:
“It’s a read by our quarterback, read by our offensive coordinator. You know, you take chances. You have to take chances in this type of game. You have to score points. We knew we had to score some points against them. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it. It’s a double-read. What I mean by a double-read there is, you have a run play and you have a pass play. Depending on how many guys they have in the box, you throw the football.”
Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall on Liberty’s decision to go for it on 4th and 1 at own 14 yard line:
“I actually admired the decision, they came to win the game. And they were having success running the ball, especially early. There was kind of a point in the game where I think they decided that they could run for a first down or that they could get a first down and that might in and of itself kind of shift the momentum and have a psychological effect on our team. I have no issues with the decision. Under all the circumstances, with Liberty coming to UVA to play in our stadium with the game being close, I admired it.”
Peytton Pickett on his breakout performance:
“It started with the first play, really. The offensive line did a great job today, without them we wouldn’t have had any success today. I have to give credit to them.”
Bejour Wilson on playing in that type of environment:
“It’s a blessing. I was tearing up walking out on the field. This is something you dream about. And then getting a pick on the big stage like that, it’s just something you dream about.”
Bejour Wilson on the mood of the defense:
“We just know we have to play our game. Sometimes that can be hard because we’re all trying to gel together, but we have to have each other’s backs and just keep fighting. We just make sure that each game is something new.”
Frankie Hickson on playing at Scott Stadium:
“My sister graduated from UVA so I got to see a lot of games from the stands. Now, actually standing on the field, and not only standing on the field, playing with these guys. Not only playing, but scoring. This season has been full circle for me. It’s truly just a blessing.”