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Wake Forest Football Preview: Liberty Flames

The Deacs return to Truist Field for their third game of the season to face an opponent they have never lost to – the Liberty Flames. Of course, the last time Wake played Liberty, the Flames were a Big South Conference FCS program. Things are going to be a little different this time, as Liberty is now an FBS program that has never had a losing record since its jump in 2018 and has won or 8 more games in all but 1 of its 4 seasons. FBS level. . It’s quite impressive.

Instantaneous

  • Opponent: Freedom
  • Date: 5 p.m., Saturday, September 17, 2022 (ACC Network)
  • Location: Truist Field, Winston Salem, North Carolina
  • Vegas Insider Total Wins: 6.5
  • 2021 review: 8-5
  • Previous match: Wake 20—Liberty 17 (2012)
  • all time against WakeForest: 0-2

Liberty have been a very good team recently under head coach Hugh Freeze; the Flames have won 26 games over the past 3 seasons and are 3-0 in bowl games over that span. In 2020, the Flames beat Syracuse, Virginia Tech and one of the top 10 teams on the Carolina coast while coming within points of a perfect season – their only loss was a one-point loss at hands of NC State. All this to say that Liberty is no longer a program that teams can schedule for an easy win and is capable of beating just about anyone.

We can start with the breakdown of what Liberty looked like last season, but I don’t know how much that’s going to matter. The Flames had the 25th best offense in the country last season – scoring 33.6 points per game – and the 37th best total offense – gaining 436.7 yards per game. They used the familiar shotgun system, but they’re in no rush to get back to the line once the game is over. The Flames played about 68.3 games per game last season, which actually puts them in the slowest half of FBS teams (67th out of 130). While almost exclusively in the shotgun last season, Liberty was definitely a heavier team, opting to keep the ball on the ground almost 60% of the time. This resulted in about 180 rushing yards per game at an average of 4.6 yards per carry.

Now why does none of this really matter? The short answer is QB Malik Willis, who was drafted by the Tennessee Titans this year. Willis was sort of the entire offensive system at Liberty, leading the team in passing and rushing the past 2 seasons. Last season combined for 3,735 yards and 40 touchdowns and nearly doubled Liberty’s starting running back rushing yards. I don’t think Liberty can replace a player like Willis in just 1 year. The team currently has a 4-way battle for the vacancy, with neither candidate emerging as the clear starter yet. Of the 4 players, only Utah transfer Charlie Brewer has attempted more than 50 career passes. Freeze recently said after a tough scrimmage for the offense: “I sort of went into this pre-season game No. 1 feeling pretty certain maybe where we were going… Not quite as much. right now.” It might just be a motivational tactic, but it’s not a good sign not being able to choose between four quarterbacks with less than a month to go. Honestly, the fact that Brewer – a 63% passer with over 10,000 yards and 68 passing touchdowns and over 1,000 yards and 22 rushing touchdowns in his career – isn’t the obvious starter, baffles me a bit. .

With the quarterback’s uncertainty, it’s hard to say what Liberty might look like when the Deacs face them. I’m just going to assume that Brewer is going to end up starting because of his 5 years of experience, but if he couldn’t separate himself from the rest of the field he might have lost a stage. Based on that, I’m going to assume that Liberty will rely on the run a bit more this season, especially at the start. This will put most of the workload on junior Shedro Louis (446 yards, 5.6 ave, 4 TDs) and senior redshirt TJ Green (477 yards, 6.4 ave, 4 TDs) to generate offense during let them determine the situation of the quarterback. This could be problematic for the Deacs as stopping spread play was a huge problem for Wake Forest last season. Between Louisville, Syracuse, UNC and Clemson — teams that lack the shotgun and use the QB as a rusher — Wake gave up 307 rushing yards per game, nearly 6 yards per carry and 15 total rushing touchdowns. I really hope we see an improvement in that department this season.

In defense, Liberty was one of the best teams in the country last season. The Flames ranked 24th in the nation in scoring defense – allowing just over 21 points per game – and 11th in total defense – allowing just 320 yards per game. In what is almost the exact opposite of Wake Forest’s defense last year, Liberty was excellent at anything but generating turnovers. The Flames were one of the worst teams in the nation with just 11 forced turnovers in 2021, giving them the 10th-worst turnover margin in FBS last season. Their pass defense was outstanding, holding opponents to a 56% completion rate for just 180 yards through the air per game. Much of that was likely due to their ability to get after the quarterback, which allowed them to sack the opposing quarterback 37 times last season. They pick up 2 of their best rushers this season in DT Kendy Charles and LB Aakil Washington, who combined for 9.5 sacks last season. That being said, the Flames didn’t exactly face many offensive juggernauts last season. Liberty only played 3 top 50 offenses (Ole Miss, Louisiana, Army) and they lost to all 3, giving up an average of 361 yards and 33 points per game. Those 3 offenses were nowhere near as good as what Wake Forest did last season, so I think the Deacs should still be able to rack up a lot of points on a pretty solid defense.

Prediction

Liberty is apparently struggling to pick a quarterback to replace one of college football’s best players over the past two seasons. This could balance out as Wake Forest will likely start a quarterback making his 3rd start in Mitch Griffis (assuming he starts the first 2 games). Liberty’s defense has been very good lately, but I think their stats could be slightly inflated due to the offensive strength of their opponents. Wake should be able to score, but the question will be whether or not they can stop Liberty’s running game. If this turns into a shootout, a lucky rebound or an expensive turnover could be the deciding factor, and I’d much rather this game wasn’t all about luck. I don’t think it will be an easy outing, but with the home game and Wake hopefully improving the defense, the Deacs should come away with a win to move to 3-0.