#42 Liberty Football 2021 Preview

Liberty Flames
Overall Rank: #42
#3 FBS Independent
 Liberty Logo
Coach Hugh Freeze led Liberty to an impressive 10-1 record in 2020. That included wins against the likes of Syracuse, Virginia Tech and 12th ranked Coastal Carolina in the Cure Bowl. Their lone loss came by one point at North Carolina State. Thanks to the return of dynamic quarterback Malik Willis, the Flames could be even better in 2021.
2020 Record: 10-1
2020 Bowl: Cure Bowl vs. Coastal Carolina (W 37-34)
Coach: Hugh Freeze (18-6 at Liberty, 60-38 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Kent Austin, Maurice Harris
Defensive Coordinator: Scott Symons
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Malik Willis, QB, 944 yards
Passing: Malik Willis, QB, 2,260 yards
Receiving: DJ Stubbs, WR, 523 yards
Tackles: Javon Scruggs, S, 69
Sacks: Durrell Johnson, DE, 8.5
Interceptions: Javon Scruggs, S, 2
Other Key Returnees: RB Joshua Mack, RB Shedro Louis, WR Kevin Shaa, WR Demario Douglas, LB Aaron Pierre, DE TreShaun Clark, S Marcus Haskins
Key Losses: RB Peytton Pickett, LB Anthony Butler, CB Emanuel Dabney
Willis completed 64.2 percent of his passes for 2,260 yards and 20 touchdowns. He also ran for 944 yards and 14 more scores. The Flames return their top three receivers, led by DJ Stubbs and his 38 receptions for 523 yards. Kevin Shaa is the big play threat and averaged 18.0 yards per catch last season. Noah Frith was limited by injuries last season and he has the talent and size to make a big impact. With the entire offensive line returning, Willis will have plenty of time to look downfield or run himself. But when Willis hands the ball off, Joshua Mack will get the job done. For the second year in a row, Mack ranked second on the team in rushing. He should do that again assuming Willis once again nears the 1,000 yard mark.
The Liberty defense took a huge step forward in 2020. They ranked 11th in the nation in total defense, allowing under 320 yards per game. Durrell Johnson and TreShaun Clark lead a deep front four. Having the bodies available to rotate in the trenches proved to be extremely important last year and this year should be even better. Replacing linebacker Anthony Butler will not be easy, but Louisiana-Monroe transfer Rashaad Harding should be up for the job. He will join Aaron Pierre, who tallied 41 tackles in 2020. The secondary is where the Flames really came into their own last season. Javon Scruggs led the way with 69 tackles and two interceptions and cornerback Chris Megginson had a very good sophomore season. With a couple experienced transfers coming in, Coach Freeze has plenty of options.
The Bottom Line:
Liberty should once again win plenty of games. There are tough road trips to Syracuse and Ole Miss though. Can they win those types of games again in 2021? And the season ends with a couple deceptively difficult home games. First, Louisiana comes to town on November 20th. That is a Ragin’ Cajuns team that many expect to win the Sun Belt. And then a very good Army team visits. The Flames could very well start out 9-0, but those last three games would determine just how good this group really is.
Projected Bowl:  Frisco Bowl
2020 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 252.4 (9th in nation, 2nd in conference)
Passing Offense: 230.4 (63, 2)
Total Offense: 482.7 (15, 2)
Scoring Offense: 38.2 (16, 2)
Rushing Defense: 132.8 (29, 3)
Pass Defense: 184.9 (12, 2)
Total Defense: 317.7 (11, 3)
Scoring Defense: 20.5 (22, 3)
Turnover Margin: 0.09 (57, 3)
Sacks: 2.55 (44, 1)
Sacks Allowed: 2.00 (48, 3)