Liberty (3-0, 1-0 CUSA) defeated Buffalo (0-3, 0-0 MAC), 55-27, on Saturday afternoon in New York. The Flames jumped out to a 24-0 lead and cruised to a victory as the offense had its way on a sunny and crisp early fall afternoon in western New York.
“Very pleased with our victory today,” said Liberty head coach Jamey Chadwell. “I’m not necessarily pleased with how we played for four quarters. I don’t think we competed the way we are capable of, consistently. Anytime you can go on the road, obviously it’s the first time with us, the coaching staff and the group, to come out, get a win. We obviously started out well, had some adversity, but we really finished there well, especially in the second half.”
Liberty scored on its opening possession of the game, taking the opening kick and marching into Buffalo territory, scoring on a 39-yard Nick Brown field goal. The teams would exchange three and out series after that, but the Flames would score touchdowns on three of its next four drives to take the commanding 24-0 lead late in the second quarter.
Like the season opener against Buffalo’s conference rival, Bowling Green, the Bulls would not go down without a fight. The home standing Bulls would score touchdowns on their final two possessions of the first quarter, to grab some momentum going into the locker room with a 24-14 deficit.
Any momentum Buffalo gained before the break, quickly evaporated as the Flames quickly poured on the points. Tyren Dupree picked off his second Cole Snyder pass of the day on the third play from scrimmage, setting the team up with great field position.
Brown, who stepped in for Liberty’s starting kicker the first two weeks Teagen Lenderink, connected on his second field goal of the game, coming from 35 yards as the score grew to 27-14. Brown would finish the day a perfect 2 for 2 on his field goals and 7 for 7 on his extra points. Lenderink, however, is no longer on the Flames’ football roster.
“I thought he did a tremendous job,” Chadwell said of Brown. “We made all our kicks and extra points, he knocked it in with confidence. He had a great week of practice, did a nice job. He’s been in the situation before. He never pouted when it went the other way. He kept just doing his thing. Very pleased with him today.”
Realizing they would have to score a lot of points to keep up with the Liberty offense, Buffalo head coach Maurice Linguist elected to for it on 4th down on the ensuing drive for the Bulls. Liberty defensive tackle Jay Hardy would bat down Snyder’s pass at the line of scrimmage to force the turnover on downs. Just a few plays later, Kaidon Salter connected with Elijah Smoot, his second receiving touchdown of the game, for a 33-yard score.
The Flames scored 24 points on its first four offensive possessions of the second half, as the lead grew to 48-21 early in the 4th quarter.
“Defense got an interception, we got a field goal out of that, which was disappointing, but we got points,” Chadwell said of the team’s strong punch out of the locker room at halftime. “Then they went for on fourth down, got a stop, got a touchdown. You go from 24-14 and you’re up 34-14 really quick there in the third quarter. That was huge. Obviously we were there the first two weeks in a situation similar. We weren’t yelling, it was just going in the locker room, ‘Hey, you’ve been here. You understand this. Let’s come out and compete the way we are capable of.’ That second half, as far as execution, was way better than the first half.”
Liberty’s offense finished the day with 569 total yards, with 225 coming on the ground and 344 through the air. Quarterback Kaidon Salter finished the day completing 16 of 26 passes for 355 yards and 5 touchdowns. He also led the team in rushing, for a second time in three games this season, with 66 yards and another touchdown.
Salter once again spread the ball around the field, and he was able to connect with numerous receivers on deep passes. Salter had 40+ pass plays to CJ Daniels, Treon Sibley, and EJ Smoot.
“His arm is elite,” Chadwell said of his quarterback. “This is probably the first time we’ve been around somebody in a while that has that type of strength. You can really stretch the field. For him to be able to open it up and make some of those throws has been big for us. Now they have to defend the whole field not just sit on us. They started sitting on us there a little bit and we were able to run by them and get some big plays.”
Daniels surpassed the 100-yard receiving mark for a second straight game, as he hauled in 4 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown. He got behind the defense for a 75 yard scoring strike from Salter.
Sibley also finished the game with 106 receiving yards, catching all three of his targets, including a 56-yard scoring play.
Having his best game since transferring to Liberty from UT Martin, Smoot had 2 touchdowns on the afternoon, finishing the game with 4 receptions for 99 yards.
Wide receiver Aaron Bedgood had a 49-yard rushing touchdown, his score came with just over 6 minutes remaining in the contest to put Liberty up by the final margin of 55-27. He was the second leading rusher in the game for the Flames, finishing behind Salter.
James Jointer, Jr., getting his first action on the field this season, finished the game with 7 rushes for 48 yards, including a long of 34. Quinton Cooley finished the game with 5 rushes for 37 yards. Billy Lucas gained 14 yards on his 5 carries.
True freshman Vaughn Blue had 3 carries for 12 yards. He would leave the game in the first half after suffering an injury. He was helped to the sidelines before being carted off the field for what appears to be a serious injury that will have him missing game action.
“We are obviously very high on him,” said Chadwell of Blue. “It’s just an unfortunate situation. He landed on his shoulder. He will be out a little while. He had been playing so well. What happens is, Cooley was banged up, Billy Lucas was banged up. We had a three-headed monster we were going with then everybody gets banged up. It made some challenges. He’s a good player. Vic Venn played more, James Jointer played more, they are going to have to go, obviously, do more of that as we are going because Vaughn is a big loss for us.”
Tyren Dupree finished the game with two interceptions, as the Flames extend their nation’s best mark of picks to open the year. Liberty’s defense held Buffalo to just 87 rushing yards. The Flames forced 6 three and outs and three turnovers on downs.
“Yeah, I think they did a nice job,” Chadwell said of his defense. “Anytime you get turnovers, hold a team under 100 yards rushing, I think when we look back some of those points they got, we had too many PI’s when we’re playing. We did some undisciplined things that I didn’t like. I thought our effort was nice. I thought we executed well. There is so much more that we can do. Rushing was a big emphasis, for us to be able to hold them under 100, you knew they were going to try and do it because we hadn’t been very good at it the first two weeks. It was nice to see us make them have to be one-dimensional.”
Liberty now returns to conference play, facing Florida International on Saturday evening in South Florida. The Flames will be looking to win a second straight Conference USA game. After losing their season and conference opener to Louisiana Tech, the Panthers have won three straight, including a 24-17 win at UConn on Saturday.
“There is a lot to correct,” Chadwell said following the lopsided win. “Our effort has been great, the attitude, the belief of what our team believes in each other is good. We’ve got to just continue to execute though when it gets tight and execute at a high level. If you look at our penalties today, 10 penalties, that is unacceptable. That allows people to stay in games, or games closer than what you think. It’s going to bite us if we don’t fix it. We need to learn how to play four quarters. If we’re going to be our best every week and try to make a run in this conference, that’s what it’s going to take. We’re not there yet, but it’s good building blocks.”