Liberty got punched in the mouth in the first quarter as UAB rushed for 161 yards on 10 carries to take a 7-0 lead. The Flames’ defensive staff and players made the appropriate adjustments to hold the Blazers in check the rest of the way and help lead the Flames to a 21-14 win.
“I feel like I’ve been in a 15 round fist fight,” Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze said after the game. “I do, I’m old, but our kids they’ve got a lot of grit, a lot of fight. Certainly, it’s not always pretty right now, that drives me crazy. I’ve got to get us improved, our coaches and our players our just going to fight and battle for 60 minutes and try to figure out a way to create enough plays to win the game.”
The Flames scored 21 unanswered points before UAB added a touchdown off a Liberty turnover late in the fourth quarter. Kaidon Salter, making his first career start, and the Liberty offense was able to put the game away in the final minutes to secure the victory as the Flames improve to 2-0 for the third straight season.
The Blazers were held to just 80 rushing yards on 33 carries the final three quarters as Liberty co-defensive coordinators Josh Aldridge and Jack Curtis were able to make the necessary adjustments.
“Man, they played with such heart,” Freeze said of his defense. “That’s a really good offensive line, really good running backs. I thought we limited the explosive pass plays. They got theirs in the run game, but we sure bowed our neck too. I couldn’t be prouder of our coaches and our kids.”
UAB’s DeWayne McBride had himself a game, rushing for 177 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. Jermaine Brown, Jr. added 91 yards and another score, but it wasn’t enough as the Liberty defense got the stops it needed and kept the Blazers off the scoreboard in both the second and third quarters.
Liberty played more kids in the second half on defense, looking to keep fresh legs on the field. It paid dividends as the Flames improved to 8-0 against Conference USA opponents under Coach Freeze. The Flames finished the game with 10 tackles for a loss.
Salter didn’t have the best game, as he completed just 13 of 25 passes for 202 yards. He also rushed for a team-high 79 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. His most important scramble came in the closing minutes as he scampered 35 yards to pick up a first down and allow the Flames to run out the clock.
“We’re playing with a quarterback that has relatively few snaps,” said Freeze of his offense. “So, you’re kinda hesitant to call everything. You don’t feel like you have to. You feel like, let’s just stay in the fight and manage the game. We had a few chances to get points, we missed a field goal that could have helped for sure. Then, we had another turnover in really good field position, got a chop block called on us. That put us behind the chains. When your defense is playing well, you don’t feel like you have to panic and just throw the ball all over the place.”
The Flames also had a ground game to rely on at times. Dae Dae Hunter was able to have some nice runs, finishing the game with 64 yards and a touchdown. Shedro Louis also got into the end zone on the ground, while he picked up 45 yards on the ground and another 36 in the passing game.
Liberty will now have to prepare to face a top 25 Wake Forest team that is 2-0 and has their veteran quarterback back healthy and on the field. The Flames and Demon Deacons are scheduled to kick off at 5 p.m. next Saturday in a game that will be televised on the ACC Network.
“We’re going to enjoy this one tonight,” said Freeze. “I’m going to go eat some soup. Tomorrow, go to church, and then start trying to figure out a way to get on the road and compete with a top 25 team in the country. Our schedule is brutal, if I haven’t said that before. It’s brutal. We are fighting like heck to have a chance to win games, whether on the road or at home, and get bowl eligible for a fourth straight year.”