Over the past two seasons, Liberty sports a 17-3 record with the three losses coming by a combined seven points. The Flames have not lost by more than three points in a game since the 2019 campaign. Liberty is just three plays away from winning all 20 games over the past two seasons.
One of the biggest changes that has helped Liberty elevate itself to another level is quarterback Malik Willis. The former Auburn quarterback has a 16-3 record as a college starting quarterback, all of those games coming at Liberty over the past two seasons. Regardless of who Liberty has played, whether it has been an ACC opponent or any Group of Five team in the country, the Flames have had a chance to win with the potential first round NFL draft pick behind center.
Liberty and Willis will have their biggest test over the past two seasons on Saturday when the Flames travel to Oxford, Mississippi to take on No. 15 Ole Miss. The Rebels, led by head coach Lane Kiffin and quarterback Matt Corral, are currently 9.5 point favorites over Liberty for this week’s game. Liberty’s coaching staff has said this week that Ole Miss is the best team the Flames have faced since they have been at Liberty, but with Willis, the Flames have a chance.
“He’s got to play really well, he’s got to take care of the football, but he gives you a fighting chance to score points offensively along with our other kids,” Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze said of Willis. “You’ve got to have a trigger guy to beat a team who’s depth chart is deeper and probably more talented than yours, you better have a trigger guy that plays really well. It will hinge on how well he plays, how well I coach him.”
So far this season, Willis has completed 140 of 210 passes for 1,986 yards for 21 touchdowns. He’s only thrown an interception in back-to-back games earlier this season, throwing three in each game as he has six picks on the season. Willis also leads the team in rushing with 684 yards and 9 touchdowns on his 126 rushing attempts.
“I would like this to be some opponent that you had never heard of before that didn’t have a first round draft pick quarterback,” Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said this week of the Flames and Willis. “That would be nice, but it’s basically like having another SEC game.”
Not only does he have the attention of Ole Miss and their coaching staff, but also NFL teams across the country. Willis will have his biggest opportunity to impress the NFL scouts, coaches, and general managers against Ole Miss on Saturday. Kiffin said there is expected to be 22 NFL teams on sight at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford this weekend.
“Football is a team game,” Willis said of Saturday’s game. “It can’t be me against (Corral) and it can’t be all this other stuff that don’t really matter verse all this stuff that don’t really matter. We get this opportunity to go out there and have fun right now. Leave all the talking stuff to when we’re not playing football, that’s what it’s for to keep people interested when we’re not playing. I just think we should go out there and have fun and glorify God while we’re doing it. Anything more than that, we will be wasting our opportunity and making the moment about us when it’s really not.”
The Liberty quarterback will need some help on Saturday though, particularly from his offensive line. The Flames’ offensive front has had difficulties being able to protect the dual-threat quarterback consistently throughout the season. Liberty has allowed 29 sacks to opposing teams through the first nine games of the season, and on numerous occasions Willis has been able to escape the would-be pass rush to evade the potential sack and make a play with his feet.
“Our front’s going to have to hold up some too,” Freeze said. “You’ve got to protect him. You can’t expect him to make miracle plays every single time, particularly against a team that has the team speed that Ole Miss does. No doubt, it will hinge on how well he plays, how well we protect him.”