SUMMARY: Liberty 36 vs UAB 12
Liberty had a few hiccups early in this one, but a dominant second-half performance in which Liberty scored 33 points while holding UAB to just 9, ensured the Flames walked away with a nice statement win and proved Hugh Freeze has this team back on track after a tough road outing last week. Hugh Freeze said the Blazers would be the best team they’d faced this season but Liberty made it look easy as they cruised into the fourth with the game well in hand and a chance for the backups to get some playing time.
Liberty should look into getting Freeze’s halftime speeches bottled and sold in stores because whatever he said galvanized an offense that had only managed a field goal into five touchdown drives on 7 of their second-half possessions. The main reason for the change? Malik Willis. Willis was having a pretty good game in the first half but he looked unstoppable in the second half, whether it was on the ground or through the air. Willis opened up the first drive of the second half with a deep ball (34 yards) to Douglas and finished it with an 8-yard rushing TD. That drive sparked Willis and he didn’t stop until he was replaced by his backup with the Flames up 30-3 in the fourth. Willis finished the day with 287 yards passing for 1 TD and no picks and added another 144 yards rushing on the ground. Willis bore a lot of the blame for the Syracuse loss (despite an overall excellent performance) and he came into this game looking like he had something to prove. The Willis hype train may have taken a slight detour after the loss last week, but it is full steam ahead after his stellar performance against the Blazers.
However, Malik didn’t do it alone and owes a huge debt of gratitude to his receivers who had an excellent outing today and provided Willis reliable targets when he dropped back to pass. Especially noteworthy were the performances of Douglas and Daniels who combined for 197 of Liberty’s 331 passing yards. Douglas and Daniels both showed impressive vision as ball careers in addition to their route running, often reversing field for long runs after the catch (one of which Daniels was able to turn into a touchdown).
The only real downside was the fact that once again the RB running game (which only accounted for 67 of Liberty’s 213 rushing yards) was unable to provide any consistency to the offensive attack. Mack did look better at times in this one and managed to punch in his second touchdown of the season (his first since the season opener) and Louis broke free for a nice 19-yard carry but Green only averaged 1.5 yards per carry and the running game was clearly an afterthought to an offense which is flowing entirely through Willis’ arm and legs.
Considering that Liberty gave up 173 yards on the ground and only forced one turnover late, it is truly surprising that Liberty only allowed the Blazers to score 12 points. However, while Liberty was gashed repeatedly in the run game (LU gave up 4.8 yards per carry) and was beat on several downfield plays in the passing game (one for 53), Liberty was able to implement a highly effective bend but don’t break style of play which kept UAB scoreless on 10/12 of their drives.
Especially impressive was the fact that Liberty forced 4 straight 3 and outs for the Blazers plus an interception which allowed Liberty’s revitalized offense to build an insurmountable lead. Liberty still needs to find a way to start off better, but the coaching staff’s ability to make adjustments and not allow mistakes to turn into costly scores is truly impressive. While Liberty would like to perform better in stopping the running game overall, 5 sacks, 12 points allowed and only a 46% completion percentage against the defensive coverage will put a smile on even the crustiest of defensive coordinators.
Here we go again. I’ve begged, I’ve pleaded, I’ve advised, I’ve cajoled and still, Liberty walks out on the field every weekend and completely whiffs on the kicking game. Liberty went to true freshman Brayden Beck to try and solve its kicking woes but still found no answer as Liberty had an extra point blocked and another extra point muffed on the snap. Even on the lone field goal Liberty attempted, it was not without adventure as Beck managed to push through a 21-yard field goal, but it looked rough and barely cleared the upright. In fact, not getting PATs was not the worst of Liberty’s kicking nightmare, as the one PAT that was blocked was actually returned for a score against the Flames.
While the return units for the Flames were a non-factor and the coverage team played ok, the one definitive positive to come out of the Flames’ special teams performance was definitely the punting game which looks to be in good hands (or feet) going forward as true freshman Max Morgan continued in his relief of Alves and downed 3 out of his 4 punts inside the 20. If Liberty can bring in (or coach up) a kicker to compliment the talents of its freshman punter, this unit could certainly develop into a real strength for this Flames team over the next few seasons.
HOW DID LIBERTY PERFORM AGAINST MY KEYS TO THE GAME?
1. DEFENSIVE LINE REDEMPTION: C+
Liberty’s D-line managed to score 5 sacks on the QB and stood strong when it mattered (including a huge fourth-down stop in the first half) but this key was about proving Liberty could consistently win the battles up front and stop the run which didn’t happen with 173 yards on the ground and 4.8 yards per carry by UAB.
2. RUN WILLIS, RUN! A+
Not only did Willis have an excellent game on the ground with 15 carries and 144 yards rushing for 2 scores, the coaching staff intentionally and creatively worked Willis’ rushing abilities into the playbooks with at least 8 of those 15 carries designed QB draws. Willis also worked his legs in the scramble drill as he effortlessly avoided tackles on multiple occasions to turn busted plays into big gains. In fact, UAB only recorded 1 sack on Willis, the fewest sacks on Willis this season since the Campbell game.
3. SIDESTEP THE KICKING GAME: F
Liberty attempted to fix their kicking struggles by changing the kicker which didn’t change much with 2 PAT opportunities missed. At this point in the season, it might just be better for Liberty to plan to go for 2 because this is getting ridiculous.
Liberty had one of the most dominant second halves I have seen in college football this season and turned what was a very competitive back and forth into a blowout that had fans easing back into their recliners by the fourth quarter. But this one could have turned out much differently if not for UAB QB Dylan Hopkins’ extremely poor performance after coming into this game with a 74%+ passing efficiency. There were at least 4 opportunities I counted that Hopkins missed wide-open receivers deep for probable touchdowns which would have brought the score of this one up to 40-36 UAB. Now Liberty’s defense is partially responsible for Hopkins’s sub-50% passing efficiency, but the QB was also just off against the Flames. Liberty should relish the win and feel good about their success but there will still be a lot of learning moments during the film session on Monday as this squad continues to develop into the team many hoped it could be coming into this season.
Liberty’s next 4 opponents are a combined 5-13 and provide the Flames an excellent chance to roar into the Ole Miss game in November with an 8-1 record and full head of steam. The Syracuse loss was a significant setback for this team, but they seem to have come out of it improved and stronger and this season can still be the special year Flames fans so wanted it to be. Liberty shouldn’t rest on their laurels, but they should take pride in their performance today which finally gave fans a small taste of what these Liberty Flames are truly capable of.
Written by Mr. Exclamation Point.