The Liberty Flames (7-3) are back in action this week following its open date as the Flames play host to No. 21 Louisiana (9-1). Kickoff from Williams Stadium is scheduled for 4 p.m. this Saturday on ESPNU.
This will be the second ever meeting between the two programs as Liberty fell to the Ragin’ Cajuns, 35-14, on Sept. 7, 2019 in Lafayette, Louisiana at Cajun Field. Liberty led that game 14-7 in the second quarter before Louisiana reeled off 28 unanswered points behind 593 total yards of offense and 407 rushing yards on an average of 8.8 yards per carry.
That was the second ever game for head coach Hugh Freeze at Liberty as he coached from a medical chair in the press box at the game as he recovered from a staph infection in his back. Since that time, Freeze has helped build Liberty into one of the more established non-Power Five teams in the country. On Saturday, the Flames will take on one of the other more established Group of Five programs in Louisiana.
Behind fourth year head coach Billy Napier, the Ragin’ Cajuns have won 30 out of their last 35 ball games, and they need just one more win this season to secure a third consecutive 10 win season. Louisiana is currently ranked No. 21 in the Coaches Top 25 poll after finishing the 2020 campaign ranked as high as No. 15 in the country.
This season, the Ragin’ Cajuns dropped their season opener at Texas, 38-18, but have since won nine straight games including a 35-21 win at Troy last Saturday. Of their nine wins, five have come by eight points or less, but they also have impressive blowouts including a 41-13 drubbing of Appalachian State. Louisiana has clinched its fourth straight Sun Belt West Division championship and they will host this year’s Sun Belt Championship Game on Dec. 4.
“They really are a fundamentally sound football team that are well coached in every facet, and they play great complimentary football,” Freeze said of Louisiana. “They are a very tough opponent week in, week out. They are on a nine-game win streak after dropping their opener to Texas. We are playing a top 25 team. I don’t know how many we have had come into Williams Stadium, but it’s going to be on national TV. It’s a chance for us, again what I’ve always said, we’ve got bowl eligible now let’s test ourselves, and this is a great way to test ourselves to end the season against two really good football teams these last couple of weeks.”
Louisiana’s offense is averaging 31.2 points per game and 420 yards of total offense each contest. It is paced by super senior quarterback Levi Lewis who is in his fourth full season as the Ragin’ Cajuns’ starting signal-caller. This season, Lewis has completed 175 of his 283 passes for 2,108 yards, 15 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. The dual-threat quarterback has also rushed for nearly 1,000 yards in his career, including 210 this year and 3 touchdowns on 68 carries.
“He is just a complete quarterback,” Freeze said of Lewis. “He is throwing accurate balls, he has great accurate receivers, great tight ends. They play a lot of tight ends, they are really deep at that position, and he can use his legs when needed to be difficult to defend. He is a really, really solid quarterback.”
The Louisiana offense is similar to a triple-option style attack in that they are a run-first team and their offense features a lot of shifts and motions pre-snap. The Ragin’ Cajuns have a stable of running backs, led by Chris Smith and Montrell Johnson. The 5’9″, 194 pound Smith leads the team with 125 rushing attempts for 762 yards and 8 touchdowns. Johnson, listed at 5’11”, 210 pounds, has 119 carries for 677 yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns.
They have a talented group of pass catchers for Lewis to target. 13 different players have at least seven receptions this season. Peter LeBlanc has a team-high 29 receptions for 281 yards and a touchdown. Dontae Fleming has 22 receptions for 285 yards and 2 touchdowns. Michael Jefferson has 13 receptions for a team-best 332 yards and 3 touchdowns.
- Liberty is 7-2 all-time against Sun Belt opponents including 2-0 at Williams Stadium. The Flames are 1-1 this season against Sun Belt teams, defeating Troy and falling to Louisiana-Monroe.
- The Flames have won a program record 15 straight home games at Williams Stadium, ranking No. 4 nationally among active streaks. Liberty has scored at least 40 points in each of its last eight home games and is in search of its first ever home win over an FBS top 25 foe.
- Liberty ranks No. 13 nationally for fewest points allowed (18.7 ppg) with Louisiana right behind the Flames at No. 14 (18.9 ppg).
- The Flames finish the season facing three straight teams who played in 2020 bowl games in Ole Miss (Outback Bowl), Louisiana (ServPro First Responder Bowl), and Army (AutoZone Liberty Bowl).
Hugh Freeze on Louisiana – “When teams have quarterbacks that play really well and DLine’s that play really well, you have a chance to win a lot of games. You look at their team, certainly they have great skill around him at receiver and running back, I think this is top 2 or 3 running back we’ve faced this year, in my opinion, but you look at their DLine and you look at their quarterback, those two units have played really well for them over the course of Billy (Napier’s) tenure there. It’s no mystery why they have won so many games it’s because of those two positions primarily, then you put all that talent around them like those receivers they have, tight ends, running backs, skill positions. It’s a plethora of them in that state, I know. They have done a great job recruiting and then taking them and coaching them up.””
DC Scott Symons on QB Levi Lewis – “He’s a dual-threat guy, he can run it, he can spin it. I’ve got a ton of respect for him. I think he does a great job.”
Henry Chibueze on Louisiana – “They run a very efficient offense. Their quarterback is a five year starter. He knows how to protect the ball. They have a good stable of running backs. I know they are going to present challenges, so we just need to be on top of our game and we should be good.”
Malik Willis on Louisiana’s defense – “You see why they had all those all-conference players and honorable mention all-conference players. They are a good defense. They are well coached. They do what they do and they try to do it the best they can.”
DJ Stubbs on Louisiana compared to the 2019 game – “They look pretty similar with the type of player they have, the physicality they bring.”
Thomas Sargeant on Louisiana – “This group we are going to play against is probably the best DLine we have played against overall. I know other teams have had players here and there but this group is really solid up front. It’s going to come down to us executing each play. We’ve got to stay locked in mentally because they do a lot of line movements.”
Liberty 28, #21 Louisiana 24
The Flames will look to keep hopes of a second straight 10-win season alive as well as keep the home winning streak in tact against one of the top Group of Five programs and head coaches in the country.