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Liberty Flames Preview 2022: Previewing, predicting, and looking ahead to the Liberty season with what you need to know and keys to the season.
Liberty Flames Preview
Head Coach: Hugh Freeze, 4th year at Liberty, 26-11
12th year overall, 85-43, 2021 Preview
2021 Record: Overall: 8-5
Keys To The Season | Season Prediction, What Will Happen
Liberty Top 10 Players | Liberty Schedule
Liberty Flames Preview 2022
No, Liberty didn’t go 10-1 like it did in 2020, and no, it didn’t come up with a slew of special wins over Power Five programs like it did when it ripped through the ACC.
It was still an eight-win season, there was a third straight bowl win, and head coach Hugh Freeze appears to have the transfer portal rocking and rolling to quickly fill in the gaps.
It’s hard to get better when you lose talent like QB Malik Willis and tacklers like Storey Jackson and Rashaad Harding at linebacker, but the Flames were young last year, they upgraded the depth this offseason, and the schedule is almost a perfect combination of cream-puff and good tests.
It’ll take something disastrous for Liberty to not make a fourth straight bowl game. The question is how many teams it can screw up on the way there.
Liberty Flames Preview 2022: Offense
The offense should’ve been a whole lot better. It became too reliant on Malik Willis, the running backs weren’t tearing off yards in chunks like they did in 2020, and turnovers became a problem.
Even so, and even with the late season power outage with the O failing to score 17 points in any of the last three games, it still averaged 436 yards and 34 points per game. But now it has to replace Willis, and that starts with …
Charlie Brewer – it only seems like he’s been in college football for the last nine years. The former Baylor Bear and Utah Ute isn’t going to run like Willis, but he’s a veteran game manager who’ll get the ball in everyone’s hands and keep the offense going … if he wins the job. Brewer is the safe call, but redshirt freshman Kaiden Salter could be the shot for the stars.
The receiving corps should be better. Demario Douglas and CJ Daniels were 1-2, respectively, in catches last season, but Daniels is coming off a torn ACL.
Campbell transfer Caleb Snead will be a factor, and veteran CJ Yarbrough is back after taking a season off.
The running back situation is strong. TJ Green was the leading back last season with 477 yards and four scores – averaging over six yards per cary – and smallish, quick back Shedro Lewis is dangerous whenever he has the ball. Also in the mix is Hawaii transfer Dae Dae Hunter – he’s got the talent to take over the gig and make it his.
The O line is also getting help from the transfer portal. Nassir Watkins from Kentucky should slide into a tackle spot, and Boston College/Colorado State C Cam Reddy is going to be a fixture.
Liberty Flames Preview 2022: Defense
The defense was able to hold its own throughout last year. The line was great at getting into the backfield, there was a lot of bending-not-breaking, and overall the Flames allowed just 320 yards and 22 points per game.
The line should be fantastic. It’s good as is, and it got help from the transfer portal to add even more depth. TreShaun Clark will be one of the best defensive ends Liberty opponents will deal with all year, and Durrell Johnson isn’t all that far behind. Dre Butler from Auburn will help a promising rotation on the inside.
JUCO transfer Mike Smith will be the man in the middle of the linebacking corps, and there’s work to do around him.
The Flames have talent and a few good veterans – Aikil Washington is a pass rusher who’ll likely play a hybrid linebacker role – to try to replace the 182 tackles of lost production from Storey Jackson and Rashaad Harding.
Jason Scruggs is a tough safety who’ll be among the team’s top tacklers, and the corners should be okay. However, this group didn’t pick off enough passes last year – just seven of the nine – and most of that production is gone.
Liberty Flames: Keys To The Season, Top Game, Top Transfer, Fun Stats NEXT
Liberty Flames: Keys To The Season, Top Game, Top Transfer, Fun Stats
Liberty Flames: Key To The 2022 Offense
Stop the turnover trend.
So where did things go wrong over the second half of last year? How could a team as good as Liberty lose to ULM and fail to score more than two touchdowns in any of the last three games?
Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers.
Liberty failed to give away more than one in any of the first five games of last year, and it was able to overcome a slew of giveaways throughout its great 2020.
The second half of last season was a problem with 18 in the last seven regular season games. There were three against ULM, six in the blowout loss to Louisiana, and the team was -11 in turnover margin in the three game losing stretch to closeout the regular season.
And on the flip side …
Liberty Flames: Key To The 2022 Defense
Take the ball away.
Overall the defense was terrific, but considering how good the pass rush was, there weren’t enough big plays to take advantage of the pressure.
The Flames came up with just 11 takeaways with only two fumble recoveries and the picks spread out. When the offense was giving it up in the last three losses of the regular season, the defense wasn’t doing its part – there weren’t any takeaways in those three games.
Going back to the problems on the offensive side, too, Liberty was +3 in turnover margin in the eight wins and -14 in the five losses.
Liberty Flames: Key Player To The 2022 Season
QB Charlie Brewer, Sr.
Or redshirt freshman Kaiden Salter. Last year’s backup Johnathan Bennett can be thrown in that mix, too.
Malik Willis wasn’t always perfect. He threw too many picks, took too many sacks, and … he was a special talent. Salter is the star of the near future, but Brewer can step right in and get the O going. It’s still going to be a fight for the gig in fall camp, and no matter what, the Flames need to replace the star.
Liberty Flames: Key Transfer
C Cam Reddy, Sr.
There might be flashier talents coming in from the transfer portal, and it’s possible Kentucky’s Nassir Watkins turns into the team’s best blocker. However, the 6-2, 305-pound Reddy is exactly what the offense needs.
How do you get over the loss of a leader and star like Malik Willis? It helps if you have a veteran center up front who keep everything consistent. The former Boston College Eagle and Colorado State Ram will be a steadying force.
Liberty Key Game To The 2022 Season
at Wake Forest, Sept. 17
Don’t overlook the opener at Southern Miss or the home date against UAB, but if Liberty is about to have a big season it needs to come up with something splashy early on. That would be a win at Wake Forest.
The 2020 team made its season on beating Syracuse and Virginia Tech, and with a close call loss to NC State. Beat the Demon Deacons, and the Flames should go on a good run and a big first half of the season.
Liberty Flames: 2021 Fun Stats
– Sacks: Opponents 52 for 355 yards – 37 for 221 yards
– Penalties: Liberty 92 for 865 yards – Opponents 78 for 720 yards
– 4th Down Conversions: Liberty 15-of-29 (52%) – Opponents 13-of-30 (43%)
Liberty Flames Season Prediction, What Will Happen NEXT
Liberty Flames Season Prediction, What Will Happen
Once again, Liberty has this strange combination of things happening.
It has a coach in Hugh Freeze, who – stripping away all the past issues – is a terrific college football coaching talent who could be the head man just about anywhere without anyone blinking.
There’s a whole lot of Power Five talent mixed in with the base parts Liberty can recruit, and all with a schedule built for fun.
The slate is built with enough sure-thing wins to give the fans some great moments, and a few nasty dates that, for an independent program like Liberty without a conference championship to win, are no pressure big battles.
Liberty is like that kid applying for colleges that has a slew of sure-thing safety schools to go along with the reaches and fliers.
Set The Liberty Flames Regular Season Win Total At … 7.5
Akron, at UMass, Gardner-Webb, at UConn, New Mexico State. Barring something crazy, Liberty has five wins locked in.
At Oklahoma State, at Arkansas – barring something crazy, those are two losses locked in.
At Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, and BYU are the tough toss-ups. Get at least one out of those three, and the season expectations will tick up a few notches
At Southern Miss, UAB. 50/50 games that will be the difference between a good year and a great one.
And in the meantime, you’ll forgive Liberty for – not unrealistically, by the way – looking at the schedule and expecting at least ten wins.