OVERVIEW: Liberty 14 vs Ole Miss 27

I got to experience the Liberty vs Ole Miss game from a unique perspective for me since graduating in 2019, and that’s from the actual stands. Living in Florida I don’t get a lot of opportunities to go to Liberty games, but I knew this was one I had to go to, especially considering it was within driving distance of me. Attending the game and experiencing the live atmosphere again was of course exciting but it also gave me something else, and that is a broad overview perspective. When you watch the game on TV you can see every play in high definition with every microcosm diagnosed by the analysts and shown on replay to spot every tiny detail of the action. Balled up in the corner of the visitor’s section its often difficult to see the intricacies of every play but what you do gain is a broad overview of the feel of the game and the performance of the team and what the players are experiencing, something you miss from your 50-yard line couch. That broad, bird’s eye perspective, is what I want fans to focus on from this game.

The spread for this game may only have been 9 points but this is a Liberty team that has struggled this season against sub-par competition and lost to ULM. Many people expected a blowout or at least for Liberty to look completely outmatched in this one. However, Liberty, especially after some first-half adjustments, looked every bit Ole Miss’ equal and had multiple opportunities to score and win this game late in the fourth. Now, this is an Ole Miss team that is hampered by injuries but they’re still a top 20 team in the nation, an SEC level foe, and a team coming into their 129th year of college football and a founding member of the FBS. If not for a slow start (which has plagued LU all year), unforced penalties, and some poor decision-making by Willis on a couple of key plays, Liberty would have walked out of Oxford with a program-defining win. While the negatives are likely to pop out in this review, I want this overall summary to be kept in mind and the fact that this was an impressive showing by a Liberty team that is in just their 4th season in the FBS.


Liberty put up 457 yards of offense against Ole Miss’ SEC-level defense and most impressively managed 284 yards on the ground which was a season-high for this LU rushing unit. While the credit for Liberty’s statistical success in the run game would usually go to its star QB who has 755 of LU’s 1,951 rushing yards (over one-third), the credit in this game surprisingly goes to Liberty’s O-line and running backs. For the first time this season Liberty got close to two backs surpassing the century mark with Louis actually passing 100 with 101 and a TD on 7 carries and the bell cow back for this one, Mack, totaling 98 yards on 19 touches (5.2 per carry). Now the success in the run game could be categorized as more sporadic than consistent with a lot of big plays accounting for a large part of the yardage for both backs, but the ability to run the ball at all is not something that Liberty has really shown this year and Saturday’s performance should give fans increased hope as LU finishes out the season with two more tough matchups against #24 (AP) Louisiana and Army.

The O-line deserves one more section of recognition in this one, because even though they were porous as always against the pass rush (Willis was sacked 9 times) they didn’t look significantly worse than they did against UMass, or North Texas or ULM, or any of the other bottom-tier schools Liberty has played this year. In fact, on quite a few of the sacks Willis had plenty of time to get rid of the ball and didn’t, which is more of a coverage sack than a breakdown by the O-line itself and the O-line only allowed 2 sacks in the entire second half. The fact that Liberty’s O-line was able to open up some holes in the run game (something they really haven’t done all year) and perform at least equally poorly in pass block (Willis had been sacked 29 times coming into the Ole Miss game) against the best defense Liberty has faced all season in terms of the level of athletes and recruiting classes, shows that Liberty’s offensive line took a big step forward Saturday which should give fans a lot of hope moving forward.

However, despite the yardage totals, the run game improvements, and the O-line progression, there is a reason that this section is getting a B-. Liberty had 11 drives, controlled time of possession by almost 19 minutes and as previously noted put up over 400 yards of offense but lost. Why was Liberty able to move it between the 20s but not capitalize with points?

Unfortunately, the answer lies with the same person responsible for Liberty being able to move the ball in the first place, Willis. Four separate times Willis got the Liberty offense deep inside Ole Miss territory but couldn’t get points on the board. In the first drive of the game Liberty managed to make it to the Ole Miss 30, but 2 consecutive sacks (where Willis had time to get rid of the ball but didn’t) and a delay of game killed the drive and forced a punt.

On the second drive of the game, Liberty managed to make it to the Ole Miss 12, before Willis was sacked for 8 yards on a play where Willis had a solid 6 seconds to make a decision before the pressure closed in. That sack moved Liberty out of go-for-it/easy field goal range and forced a 38-yard field goal attempt which was missed.

Liberty had one final chance in the first half to get points on the board and was once again driving, all the way to the Ole Miss 25 before Willis threw a pass to Louis on a wheel route straight into the waiting arms of the Ole Miss safety. Willis had time, and if he’d have waited a second more he could have thrown a fade to the corner where Louis looked like he would have been wide open vs taking the soft bullet pass option which was easily picked off.

Willis, and the rest of this Flames team, majorly cleaned things up in the second half. Willis was only sacked twice in the second half, and Liberty managed to score on their first two possessions to pull within two scores. However, with just over 1 minute left on the clock and Liberty at the Ole Miss 16, hoping to score and get a shot at the onside kick attempt, Willis made one of the worst decisions/throws of his career as on a scramble to the right he threw across his body while falling, to the back of the end-zone where there wasn’t a single Liberty wide receiver and the pass was easily intercepted by one of the 3 Ole Miss defenders waiting where the ball came down.

This isn’t meant to blast Willis, and of course, without him, Liberty wouldn’t have even been this close to pulling off the upset in the first place, but on a day where over 20 NFL scouts were in attendance and Liberty was playing the biggest opponent they face all year, it’s important to critically analyze the performance of Liberty as a whole and Willis in particular as his performance in any game pretty much determines the outcome of the team.

There were a lot of reasons Liberty lost Saturday, a few major drops by Stubbs and Frith which led to turnovers in both cases (one on downs and the other in an INT), a lack of ingenuity or misdirection by Freeze from the play-calling side in the red-zone, and a lack of consistency from the run game especially in the red-zone. However, Willis definitely bears a large portion of the blame for this loss just as if they had won he would have shouldered the majority of the praise.

No players draft stock is determined off of one game, and every QB is going to have off performances, but the lack of awareness at times by Willis in knowing when to get rid of the ball and when (or more where) not to throw it can’t have left a good impression on the minds of the scouts. Willis had plenty of elite, NFL level plays which will certainly be taken into consideration, but Willis will probably need a strong finish in the last two games to avoid slipping on any major draft boards after his third 3 INT performance of the year

Defense: A-

After the first half, it looked like Liberty might be headed for a blowout. The offense had failed to capitalize on any of its great ball movement and the Ole Miss offense had put up 345 yards of total offense and scored on 4 out of their 6 drives to make the score 24-0. Given the first-half performance, what Liberty did in the second half wasn’t just an incredible adjustment but was nothing short of miraculous. Liberty held Ole Miss to just 3 points and 121 yards of total offense in the entire second half!! In fact, except for a few big pass plays (62 of Ole Miss’s 121 yards came on 3 passing plays), Ole Miss was unable to generate any movement against an LU defense that completely changed the story of this game and gave their offense every chance to come out with the win.

Most impressive for this defense though was the fact that besides from one long 70-yard scoring run (the second play of the game for Ole Miss), Liberty’s defense was stout all day against the run. If the 70-yard score is removed, then Ole Miss only rushes for 72 yards, and this from a team that averages well over 230 yards rushing a game! Liberty’s O-line may have had issues this season winning the battles in the trenches but for the most part, the D-line has been strong all year and the fact that they could put together one of their best games against one of the top rushing teams in the country shows the true talent level of this defensive front for LU.

Liberty, Alabama, and Auburn are the only 3 teams in the country this season to hold Ole Miss to under 30 points and even though the Flames left with an L, the defense definitely leaves this game with a big win as far as establishing momentum late in the season and proving to themselves that they can stand tall with the best in the country. Liberty is about to face two teams which each average over 30 points per game and close to 400 yards per contest. The confidence Liberty gained in Oxford, plus hopefully, the lessons learned should pay big dividends as Liberty looks to finish the year strong as the time nears for bowl selection.


It’s hard to beat top-tier teams in any given situation, it’s even harder when your special teams is basically a non-factor. Special teams is usually the one spot in G5 to P5 matchups where there is a level of parity or even sometimes an advantage for the underdog, but not in the case of Liberty. The special teams have been a liability all season and that was demonstrated again in this game.

Brayden Beck missed his lone field goal attempt from 38 yards, no kick return specialist got a return greater than 20 yards, Liberty had just one punt return for 2 yards and Stubbs waved for a fair catch on a short punt that was nowhere near him which negated Douglas’ 20+ yard return that would have set Liberty up inside Ole Miss territory (that drive ended with an LU punt). To make matters worse, the one punt Liberty had for 50+ yards was meant to be a shorter punt in a situation where LU had caught Ole Miss unprepared and was trying to get the punt downed inside the 10 but instead was kicked right into the endzone. At this point, Liberty just seems to be kicking the special teams problem ball over to next season, and with only 2 games left there really doesn’t seem to be much that they can do to fix the issues within the unit.



This key didn’t end up being an issue as the O-line played as well if not better than they have against every other team. It didn’t seem to be due to the play-calling either as Hugh Freeze was not intentional about softening up the blitz with quick throws or screen passes (Liberty barely ran any screens all day), Liberty was just able to make the right adjustments coming into this one to put together a nice performance (comparatively) for this O-line and the unit avoided being a major reason that LU exited this one with a loss.


Liberty may not have been bringing the house every play Saturday but they did enough to throw a slightly hobbled Corral off and LB Story Jackson got to the QB twice for LU’s two lone sacks of the evening.


Liberty only went for it twice on fourth down, and a big part of that is that Liberty did not play third down like it was a four-down situation and instead went for it all on one play. Liberty had at least 3 opportunities inside Ole Miss territory to think about using all four downs but two sacks on Willis and a dropped pass negated that opportunity and led to 2 punts and a missed field goal. If Liberty had tried instead to get 4-6 yards on a quick throw to the flat or a screen where the receiver would at least get half, then in the best-case scenario LU might have picked it all up with a good move in space or in the worst case they would have been no further back then when they started, but longer developing routes in the face of often heavy pressure meant that Willis was forced to rush the throw or take the sack and Liberty had no choice but to kick each time.


Games like this are awesome if a team can win them but at the end of the day, their main purpose is exposure, experience, and a yardstick to find out how good you really are. As far as exposure goes Liberty certainly knocked that out of the park as walking around Oxford after the game Ole Miss fans had nothing but respect for the effort LU put in and the level of competition that Liberty performed at. Additionally, the game was Liberty’s first this season on the SECN and LU is sure to have caught the eyes of many first-time viewers and potential recruits.

As far as experience goes, this is probably the most important because never has Liberty’s slow start issue been so highlighted. Liberty has started pretty slow and played better in the second half all season but never have they so dominantly won the second half as they did Saturday. If LU could have scored or prevented at least one score in the first half (say the pick Willis threw in the red-zone) then Liberty would have been driving in the final moments not to try for the onside kick but to force overtime. Maybe Willis wouldn’t have been so pressured to score quickly and wouldn’t have forced that throw to the end-zone? Either way, the lesson learned in this game on the importance of starting out fast should stick with and serve the team well in their final two matchups of the regular season.

The yardstick though is vital in building a team’s confidence and national respect, and after this contest, the yardstick shows that Liberty is a pretty good football team. Yeah, they may have played down to some lower-level competition at times this season, but on the biggest stage, they rose to the occasion and proved they are a team that can compete right along with top-tier teams. The next two teams Liberty faces aren’t SEC or Power 5 but they are top-tier teams in the G5. Before this game, I was worried that Liberty might finish the year 7-5, but after Saturday’s performance, I am confident Liberty can get to 9-3 with a 10 win option in the bowl game. One game at a time however and Freeze will have plenty of time to game plan as the Flames enter their last bye-week of the season ahead of a massive home game against the #24 (AP) Ragin’ Cajuns.

Written by Mr. Exclamation Point