FLAMES DOMINATED LINE OF SCRIMMAGE
One of the biggest question marks entering Saturday’s season opening contest at Western Kentucky, was how the Flames would hold up on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. All we heard about last week heading into the game was how good the Hilltoppers’ defensive line was, and they returned four starters on the offensive line for a unit expected to be one of the best in Conference USA.
Well, Liberty flipped that script as the Flames ran for 354 yards on 6.1 yards per carry while holding WKU to 98 rushing yards. Additionally, Liberty quarterback Malik Willis was sacked just one time, quite the contrast from the 2019 season opener when Buckshot Calvert was sacked 7 times by Syracuse’s defense.
“I felt really good about O-Line and running backs,” Freeze said after the win Saturday. “I think that we won the line of scrimmage against a good defensive line, a good defensive front.”
“Flying over here (Friday), Ian (McCaw) was sitting next to me,” Freeze said later in the press conference. “He said, ‘Watching them, I think their front is very physical, their front six.’ I said, I would agree with you, but in the pit of my stomach I really felt like our O-Line was ready for the challenge. Had we not been able to establish the run, it would have been a really long day for us. I thought that was critical. I thought both lines set the tone early on.”
FREEZE: “BARBIR’S GOING TO BE FINE”
In addition to quarterback, the other position we were all most intrigued to see how they would perform on the field was at kicker. After game one, the results are inconclusive.
Alex Barbir got the start and made a 24 yard field goal while having a 42 yarder blocked. He also made 3 of his 4 extra points. As for his kickoffs, all of them were inside the 10 yard line with sufficient hang time, and most of them were inside the 5.
“Missed extra point, certainly we didn’t protect on the field goal and it got tipped,” Freeze said. “I think Barbir’s going to be fine. Certainly, we’ve got to make extra points.”
Following the game, despite having not talked to the training staff yet, Freeze mentioned they were only two injuries he was aware. RB Peytton Pickett injured his ankle and WR CJ Yarbrough was held out of the 2nd half.
“We just held him,” Freeze said of Yarbrough who is coming off surgery for a Jones fracture in his right foot this summer. “He probably could have played in the 2nd half, but he was hurting some and I certainly didn’t want it to slow him down.”
BOUNDS MISSES FIRST HALF
Senior left guard Damian Bounds started all 13 games for the Flames last season and was one of three returning starting lineman, but he didn’t play at all in the first half Saturday. He was on the field to begin the 3rd quarter and played most of the second half.
“Just something we felt like was right for the team,” Freeze said when asked about Bounds not playing in the first half. “He played the second half, the whole second half. He served his time.”
YOUNG CORNERS LEARNING ON THE JOB
Chris Megginson and Quinton Reese, both corners, made their first career collegiate start on Saturday. Megginson is a sophomore who played in all 13 games as a true freshman last season, while Reese is a true freshman.
The Flames were expected to have Kei’Trel Clark and Jimmy Faulks man those positions in what was thought to be one of the defense’s best positions. That was before Clark decided to transfer in late June and Faulks didn’t make the trip to Bowling Green despite failing to show up on the injury report prior to the game.
“I know we blew a third down coverage with one of them and didn’t sync on another deep route that they had on the back side, but I will watch the film,” Freeze said of his young corners. “I think they played fairly solid. I thought the young corners played well. We’re thin there. We need Isaiah Avery to get back next week and Jimmy, so hopefully we can get deeper next week.”
FREEZE HOPES WRs STEP UP
In their first game post Antonio Gandy-Golden, Liberty’s wide receivers had just 13 receptions for 133 yards and the Flames failed to have a passing touchdown for the first time since last year’s season opener against Syracuse when LU was shutout.
Of course, when you only attempt 21 passes and your quarterback gains 168 yards on the ground, the game plan isn’t necessarily designed for a big day from the wide outs. But, now that their is film on Willis and Liberty’s offense, defenses will try to make the Flames beat them through the air.
Redshirt-freshman CJ Yarbrough made a highlight worthy one handed grab on the sideline in the first half, and he led the team with 53 receiving yards on just 2 receptions while only playing in the first half as he continues to fight back from injury.
“We’ve got to improve there,” Freeze said after the game of his receivers. “I thought (Kevin) Shaa showed some senior leadership, as did (DJ) Stubbs. Demario (Douglas) we got to get more involved. He’s a play maker, and obviously get CJ and Noah (Frith) healthy. I believe in those young guys too, CJ Daniels, Jaivian (Lofton), Brody Brumm, they all contributed, for sure, but we need to get healthy there. We made some mistakes there that really hurt us and got us off schedule a couple times on their RPO choices that they made that were wrong.”