GAME SUMMARY: LIBERTY 38 VS SYRACUSE 21
People have been wondering how truly good is this undefeated Liberty football team, after today I think we can say with certainty that the Flames are proving to be very, very good! A matchup that was dominated by Liberty for a majority of the game, the Flames took the lead with 7 minutes and 49 seconds left in the second quarter and never looked back.
Liberty finally showed a complete and dominant performance on offense. A team that has struggled with consistency, turnovers, and scoring touchdowns in the red-zone, the Flames offense looked unstoppable today with 5 touchdowns scored and only two trips to the end zone that didn’t end in TDs (one was a field goal and one was a fumble by Willis which were respectively the lone field goal attempt and offensive turnover of the game).
While Willis continued to impress with 182 yards and a touchdown on 16/20 passes as well as 58 yards rushing and a touchdown, the star of the game was absolutely third-string change of pace running back Shedro Louis. Liberty uncharacteristically struggled to run the ball last week against UL Monroe, but the Flames returned to form this week, putting up 338 yards rushing against an ACC defense. A big part of that was Louis who had a career-best game with 10 rushes for 170 yards and two touchdowns (including touchdown runs of 75 and 52).
Peytton Pickett also had his first 100 yard game of the season with 115 yards on 25 carries and a touchdown. The biggest reason for the success in the run game was Liberty’s O-line which had no difficulty parting the Orange sea and creating massive holes for the running backs to take advantage of. A surprise, however, on offense was the absence of team leading rusher Joshua Mack who failed to receive one carry for the Flames.
With the running game being so prolific the Flames rarely had to go to the air but were effective when they did so with 7 different players making receptions and DJ Stubbs hauling in a 36-yard touchdown pass.
Wow! I expected the Flames to be able to move the ball efficiently against Syracuse but what I did not expect was for the Liberty defense to absolutely dominate the game! I was sure the impressive defensive performance by the secondary from last week was a fluke and that the Flames would struggle to contain the speedy Syracuse wide receivers or stop the bigger running backs. However, the Flames defense managed to hold Syracuse to only 211 yards passing and 97 yards rushing! Included in that performance was -23 yards from sacks and a diving interception by Chris Megginson (his first of his Liberty career).
Other highlights of the Flames dominant performance was a fourth-down stop after a muffed punt return by Flames return man Demario Douglas gave Syracuse the ball at the LU 14, 7 pass deflections (including one which should have been picked) and 6 tackles for loss. Truly, an all-around incredible performance for the Flames defense. This is the second week in a row that the Liberty defense has performed well-beyond expectations and it certainly looks like the Liberty secondary has truly turned a page.
If the Flames could improve in one aspect of their game Saturday, it would be Special Teams. Liberty’s special teams’ coverage was ok in that they didn’t allow any kick returns longer than 33 yards but they did allow an average of 25.2 yards per kickoff return. The field goal game was also decent, with Flames kicker Alex Barbir making his lone attempt from 20 yards out. However, there were 3 miscues that could have ended up costing the Flames if not for their stellar performance on defense and offense. The biggest flub was a dropped punt which gave Syracuse starting field position at the Liberty 14 (a tremendous 4th down stop by the Flames defense prevented a score). The second big mistake was made by Flames punter Aidan Alves, who had a punt go off the side of his foot for only 33 yards when punting from the Flames own 3-yard line which gave Syracuse another short field, leading to the Orange tying the game 14-14 (he was, however, much better on the rest of his punts and averaged 43.3 yards for the game). The third and final mistake was on Barbir who continued the unique LU tradition of kickers getting called for unnecessary penalties with a late hit on the return man after a 33-yard return which set Syracuse up at the 50-yard line (another standout defensive effort by the Flames forced a 3 and out).
HOW DID LIBERTY FULFILL MY KEYS TO THE GAME?
1. BE AGGRESSIVE ON DEFENSE: A+
The reason the Flames were so successful today is that they brought numerous blitz packages that resulted in multiple sacks, tackles for loss, or hurried throws which ended up deflected or picked (the Flames also forced an intentional grounding). Liberty’s defensive coordinator, Scott Symons, called one of the best games of his career and deserves a huge portion of the praise for this week’s win!
2. TURN WILLIS LOOSE: B
Willis looked like he had definitely shaken the rust off from last week, completing 80% of his passes with a touchdown and no INTs. The threat of Willis running paid huge dividends for the Flames with Syracuse trying to keep contain by sending linebackers on the outside and leaving the middle wide open for Louis and Pickett. With the dominance of the running game, Willis was not needed to carry as much of a load as he usually does but his presence and the need to defend against him directly impacted the success of the run game.
3. GET THE SCREEN GAME GOING: C+
Liberty did actually run three screens in this one for good yardage (Willis scrambled out of a 4th one instead of throwing it). While the screen game was not necessary in this one due to the dominance of the ground attack, it will be interesting to keep an eye on its development and use going forward, especially if the ground game dries up against stouter or more prepared defenses.
This Flames football team is breaking all preseason expectations. The Flames are already 5-0 in a season that some thought they might struggle to get back to bowl eligibility. While Syracuse is not an elite ACC defense, they are still a Power 5 defense and Liberty managed to put 38 points on them, which matches the season-high in points allowed by the Cuse. I actually predicted that Liberty would dominate on offense in my keys to the game on Friday in which I predicted a final score of LU 38 vs Syracuse 31. What I did not predict, was the dominant defensive performance by the Flames which only allowed three touchdowns in the game. Liberty has been a scary team offensively all season for opposing coordinators, but now it appears that the Flames are putting together a solid and consistent defensive unit as well which has to have some head coaches sweating a bit as Liberty rises on their schedule. Liberty may not get ranked this week, but they will definitely catch the attention of many across the country. Polls and public opinion are out of the Flames’ control, but what is within their control is their weekly performance and don’t look now, but Liberty is halfway through their schedule and bowl eligible at 5-0
Written by Mr. Exclamation Point
All photos are credited to Liberty Athletics