WILLIS OVERCOMES BLUNDERS TO LEAD FLAMES TO VICTORY
It wasn’t Willis’ cleanest game, as he finished with two lost fumbles and could have had a couple more, but he overcame those blunders to lead Liberty on its game winning drive with less than a minute to play. Willis would finish the afternoon 20 of 30 passing for 217 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also led the team in rushing with 108 yards and a touchdown on 19 rushing attempts.
But it was his play in the 4th quarter that proved to be the difference maker. He led the team on three scoring drives, all crucial in a game that was decided in the final seconds. In the 4th quarter, Malik completed 7 of 11 passes for 73 yards and a touchdown and added 7 rushing attempts for 33 yards.
He will still need to work on ball security moving forward, as that is his biggest and perhaps only weakness, but the playmaking ability of Willis gives Liberty an opportunity to compete with and beat Power Five opponents.
“He’s our guy,” Freeze said of Malik after the game. “We’ve talked to him about ball security. He didn’t always make the right decisions today, and then he tries to do crazy things with the ball sometimes. I told these kids all week long, we’re going to climb this cliff today and not worry about the scoreboard until the clock was on 0:00. Malik played like that and he played a solid second half, and he made plays for us when he had to.”
FLAMES CONTINUE TO RUN THE BALL WELL
Liberty entered Saturday’s game in Blacksburg as the No. 6 team in the nation in rushing yardage, but skeptics would point to the Flames’ weak strength of schedule for that success. It didn’t matter that Liberty was able to run the ball at will against Syracuse, as that has been a weakness for the Orange all season. The Virginia Tech rush defense hasn’t exactly been a strength of theirs this season, but they have been a solid ACC run defense and, as Freeze mentioned during the week, the Hokies were bigger, faster, and stronger than Liberty.
It makes the Flames’ success running the ball all the more impressive. Liberty finished the afternoon with 249 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns on 50 attempts, good for 5.0 yards per carry. Willis eclipsed the 100 yard rushing mark, while Joshua Mack looked like the early season version of himself with 19 carries for 90 yards. In outgaining Tech on the ground 249-201, the Flames improved to 11-0 under Hugh Freeze when outgaining its opponent on the ground.
GREAT MOMENT FOR ALEX BARBIR
Liberty kicker Alex Barbir had the moment of his dreams in hitting the 51 yard game winning field goal for the Flames. This kid’s story is incredible. Former highly rated recruit out of high school that signed with Penn State. After a couple seasons there, he decided to transfer to Liberty, but not to play football. He enrolled at Liberty, where both of his older brothers attended, as a student.
For the past three years, he considered trying out for the football team, but never did because the Flames were set at kicker with Alex Probert. This spring when Probert transferred to Iowa State, a door opened for Barbir. He took advantage of the opportunity and early season adversity to come up with the biggest kick of his life and the biggest kick in Liberty’s football history. He came back out of the locker room to an empty stadium to savor the moment a little bit longer.
Liberty K Alex Barbir soaking it in after his 51 yard game winning field goal pic.twitter.com/rNzzHwRn6R
— A Sea of Red (@ASeaofRed) November 7, 2020
DEFENSE DID WHAT IT HAD TO DO
Anytime a defense gives up 418 yards and 35 points, it’s hard to credit the unit for aiding to the win, but that’s exactly what the Liberty defense did. Virginia Tech has one of the best offenses in the country, and nobody has been able to stop them all season. Liberty’s coaching staff knew it would have its hands full with the Hokies’ offense, particularly quarterback Hendon Hooker.
During the week leading up to the game, Freeze said it would be crucial for the defense to stiffen in the red zone and force the Hokies to settle for field goals. Tech had nine offensive drives on the afternoon, scoring a touchdown on four of them. That means the Liberty defense was successful on five out of the nine drives. Two ended in a punt while three ended in field goal attempts, two of which were successful.
“We knew we were going to have problems stopping them,” Freeze said. “I tried to slow the game down and manage it so that we would have a chance late in the game. The plan worked pretty good. I should have ended the game earlier instead of scoring the touchdown we should have taken the knee, but I really thought with one timeout they would tackle us again. We had to get the first to end the game. I was so mad at myself, but now it’s all forgiven.”
*photo courtesy Liberty Athletics