Well that was interesting. Liberty’s first game is in the books, and while it may not have been the totally dominating performance throughout that Flames’ fans were hoping for, the end score ended up being large enough to not cause any poll decision makers to question the Flames down the road. There was a lot of rust knocked off in this first matchup, and while Campbell wasn’t the most thrilling of season opening opponents, they were clearly a wise choice for a team that was working through some obvious issues which may have been exploited by a more competent team. There’s not a lot of synonyms for “struggled” and at the end of the day this was a nice win by the Flames, so as a way of making the tone of this article more positive I will be substituting favorite foods of mine for the word “struggle.” Now, lets take a look at this team’s pancakes against Campbell.


Liberty put up 537 yards of offense, had zero turnovers and managed to score 7 TDs, so why the B+ rating and not an A? Well for anyone who watched the game, it was clear that this team was not playing at the same level as the team that managed to beat Syracuse, VT, and Coastal Carolina last season. The O-line pizza’d to clear holes for the run game, receivers lasagna’d to come open, and Willis was frequently flushed from the pocket. Liberty looked out of sorts for most of the first half aside from the first two drives and final two drives of the game. One of the main reasons for the offensive tacos is that I believe Liberty was sticking to my first key to the game which was to keep things simple and not try to reveal too much against an FCS opponent which didn’t present very much of a challenge. Willis looked very unwilling to run for much of the game, which took away a huge aspect of not just what he brings to the table but the identity of the team itself. Willis started using his feet in the final drive of the first half after LU’s offense had stalled out on three consecutive drives and the result was an 80 yard drive and a score. The coaches clearly didn’t want to open their playbook up fully in this game or  let their star QB expose himself to hits too many hits and that was absolutely the right decision. The fact that LU was able to put up 48 points on a self-hobbled offense is impressive and shows what kind of caliber team this really is.

One part of the Flames attack that can’t get off the hook that easily, however, is the run game. While Malik may have been self-limited, the run game wasn’t and Liberty’s stable of backs burgered mightily to run the ball in the first half. Part of the problem was that Liberty didn’t seem to be shifting its backs in and out as frequently or situationally as they did last season which worked to such success, and instead opted pretty consistently to giving each back the full drive. It was clear that Liberty wanted to come out and run the ball down Campbell’s throat but as the line steaked to block and the running backs baconed to get out of tackles, Liberty was forced to abandon its game plan and go to the air more often, which forced not only Liberty to put Willis in harms way, but also to crack open the playbook a bit and provide more game tape to Troy for next week’s matchup. 218 yards rushing may seem impressive, but when you consider that LU ran 41 times and 55 of those yards came on QB scrambles and another 36 came on a single run from Shedro Louis, what you’re really left with is 127 yards rushing on 35 attempts which equals only 3.6 yards a carry against an FCS opponent who gave up 295 yards rushing a game for an average of 6.2 yards per carry last season.


0, the number of sacks that Liberty got. 0, the number of turnovers that Liberty forced. 1, the number of scores allowed. At the end of the day, the last number is the only one that matters, but things are going to get a little tense in those defensive film sessions when the coaches start tearing apart the footage from this one. The offense may have the excuse of playing with a partial playbook, but there is no excuse for the defense which ice-creamed to get pressure on the QB (only 4 QB hurries), had difficulty wrapping up, and constantly allowed receivers to get open either for big plays. While in the end, Liberty’s defense managed to make up for their mistakes and force punts on turnover on downs on every drive except one, the lack of consistency from the pass rush and the secondary coverage will have fans nervous as they peak ahead on the schedule at some of the explosive offenses that await the Flames down the road.

The unit that struggled the most was certainly the secondary which gave up 3 plays of 20+ yards, including a 40 yard touchdown reception by the Lynchburg native Caleb Snead (not sure how LU missed this guy on the recruiting trail, but they should definitely go after him in the transfer portal as he will be a graduate with one year of eligibility left next year). Now the first game of the season is probably the hardest on the secondary of all the units on a team as they attempt to build awareness and unit cohesion (we saw the same thing last year), but Liberty faces an opponent next week who managed to demolish their week one FCS team by 52 points and that team will not be as forgiving. However, it doesn’t matter how improved the secondary is if the line can’t get to the QB, because given enough time, someone’s going to come open. The fact that Liberty’s bigger and faster defenders couldn’t get home against Campbell’s smaller FCS level players is probably one of the most troubling parts of the Flame’s performance today. It only gets more difficult from here and teams are going to be putting up a lot more than 7 points if Liberty can’t fix their pumpkin pies on defense.


Liberty’s special teams were an absolute mess, and this from a unit that I thought played very well last year and got significantly better as the year went on. For starters, Barbir continued to pasta from mid-range as he missed his lone field goal attempt from 41 yards out. Flames fans will remember that last season Barbir was 5-12 between 30 and 50 yards. I had thought that Barbir’s struggles last season were due primarily to the fact that he hadn’t had a chance to truly prepare, being thrown in last minute when LU’s starting kicker transferred out and that with a full off-season to hone his skills he would be much improved, but kicking in front of a friendly home crowd with 0 pressure on him, he still managed to miss a very make-able field goal as well as miss a PAT on the ensuing touchdown drive. Now maybe Barbir was just shaking of rust like this rest of the team seemed to be doing but next week he goes into Troy’s stadium, and those fans wont politely tone down the volume for him when he steps up to kick. Hopefully the kicker who won the game against VT can harness that same energy and confidence and come out with a stronger performance next week.

It wasn’t just Barbir who fried chickened though because both the punting unit and return team had some questionable moments. Aidan Alves (who averaged 41.8 yards per punt last season with a long of 56) saw two of his 3 punts go less than 30 yards with one flying high and short for only 27 yards. Now if Liberty had played the way they should have against this bottom tear FCS team, he shouldn’t have even been required to dust off his kicking leg, so the biggest failure is on the offense, but the fact is that he was called on to punt and he certainly didn’t have the kind of day he knows he is capable of. Like the rest of this team, I think he will be thankful for the win and the fact that his lackluster performance at the end of the day didn’t have any real impact on the game and look to improve going into next week’s matchup.

While punting and kicking were certainly the weakest part of the special teams performance, the return unit is not without fault as the return man Demario Douglas made two mistakes that might have him talking with the coaches for a bit after practice on Monday. The first was a highly questionable decision to take a punt on a late bounce in the middle of a pack of Campbell defenders which he somehow managed to turn into a nice play but which was definitely the wrong call and could have ended in disaster for the Flames. The second failure of judgement was just the opposite, as on the next punt (likely due to the coaches giving him an earful for touching the last one) he quickly called a fair catch despite the fact there wasn’t a Troy defender within 10 yards of him. Both errors show a lack of awareness on Douglas’ part which I’m sure the coaches will be highlighting in practice this week.



Liberty might have followed this one a little too well as the offense looked almost stagnant a few times during the game. While it became necessary to open up the playbook a little wider than coaches were hoping to, LU did a nice job of limiting the film they will be releasing which will certainly pay dividends next week against Troy.


This one really wasn’t an issue as Liberty was forced to keep its starters in until the fourth quarter. However, when the backups did come in, Liberty still allowed them to run mostly the same offense as the starters with perhaps a slightly more emphasized run focus. Johnathan Bennett put the ball in the air 6 times and finished with 102 yards passing and a TD, showing true promise as a playmaker who can suitably step in for Willis if called to.


The only player missing any part of next week’s matchup is Jaylon Jimerson who got called for a targeting play in the second half and will miss the first half of next week’s matchup. This key would have gotten an A+ but for one play featuring Liberty’s star QB. Willis, forced to run on a busted play, was finishing off a 20+ yard run when he finally met up with Campbell’s defenders. Instead of choosing to slide with nothing to gain from an extra yard, he lowered his shoulder and delivered a hit on the safety. There is no reason in a matchup against an FCS opponent (that you are beating easily) that your star QB should ever be seeking out contact. Even if he was at the goal line (which he wasn’t) I would say just slide and let your RB walk in the next play. Willis took a ton of hits last season with his absolute refusal to protect his body, and the magic can only last for so long before some angry defender who’s had the coaches in his ear all night and probably wasn’t hugged enough as a kid decides to cool those shifty feet for good. Willis is an NFL caliber player this season who has NFL scouts combing every inch of his game tape, and teams aren’t going to want to pay big for a player who won’t protect their investment.


Most games I would be thrilled with a 48-7 victory, but this was a team that Liberty should certainly have beaten by a lot more and left a lot of points on the field. Add onto that the fact that the burritos on defense and special teams are certainly of major concern moving forward. Now, Hugh Freeze is one of the top coaches in the country and his face on the sideline clearly showed that he would be doing everything in his power to get this team back on track going into next week’s matchup against Troy, but it may be a few weeks at least for the defense and special team units before they start achieving at the level they showed last year they are capable of.

Hopefully the offense with a full playbook available, will prove strong enough to overcome any chocolate cookies on the defensive side (like they did for the first half of last season) but Liberty will need to get itself turned around quickly if they want to live up to expectations this season. This week saw several upsets by FCS teams and several more FBS teams narrowly avoid defeats (most notably #20 Washington losing to Montana), so while Liberty may not have played up to what they are capable of, at least they can count themselves lucky that they are leaving with a nice win with a good margin of victory.

I said in my preview article that this was basically a pre-season practice matchup and I think it definitely played out that way. I think Liberty will knock off most of the rust and come back stronger for the true start to the season next week at Troy. I’ll be in the stands next week for the first LU game I’ve been able to attend since graduating in 2019. Maybe, all the Flames really need is a little bit of Mr. Exclamation Point to get them back on track 😉

Written by Mr. Exclamation Point.