Liberty vs. Syracuse

Liberty quarterback Stephen Calvert hands the ball off to Liberty running back Joshua Mack during the first half of the game against Syracuse on Saturday, August 31, 2019 at Williams Stadium.

Liberty running back Frankie Hickson has coined the film study conducted the day after a game, “Truthful Sundays.” No matter how you thought you played the day before, whether good or bad, the film doesn’t lie when revealing each minute detail.

The Flames’ season opener this past Saturday against No. 22 Syracuse wasn’t pretty for the Liberty offense. The running game was nonexistent thanks to the Orange’s stout defensive line and the passing game struggling outside of Antonio Gandy-Golden. And Flames coach Hugh Freeze on Monday went as far as to say aside from Gandy-Golden and right guard Dontae Duff, no offensive player “received a grade to which we would think was a successful outing” after a 24-0 loss.

The film study made it perfectly clear to the offense: There was a lot more to work on than the players envisioned coming out of training camp.

“[Sunday] we had to take a good hard look in the mirror — I know I did, I know a lot of players did,” Hickson said, “and really figure out what we want to do here and how successful we want to be.

“It’s time to go back to work.”

Freeze, known for his high-octane offenses, hadn’t been on the wrong end of a shutout loss since Nov. 22, 2014, when Ole Miss turned the ball over six times in a 30-0 loss at Arkansas.

Liberty hadn’t been shut out at Williams Stadium since 2005 against Youngstown State, and Saturday’s loss featured four turnovers.

The first was the most crippling of the quartet. The Flames were threatening to take the lead after reaching the Syracuse 5-yard line, but Joshua Mack fumbled a second-down stretch run around the left side at the SU 3 that squashed the Flames’ lone touchdown-scoring opportunity.

Liberty didn’t get back into Orange territory until there were less than 5 minutes left in the game.

“Obviously I never like to lose, nobody does. It’s particularly disappointing in offensively the way we performed and didn’t capitalize early on to get us some points,” Freeze said. “I can’t remember the last time we were that inept, really, offensively, and I assure you that will be a hot topic as we move forward.”

Liberty picked up 103 yards of offense in the first quarter — 56 coming on a catch-and-run to Gandy-Golden — and then had 42 yards on 31 plays over the next two quarters.

It was during that two-quarter stretch that the Orange created plenty of pressure on quarterback Buckshot Calvert and disrupted the LU offense. Calvert admitted Monday he did not take the proper drop for several of his seven sacks, did not make the right reads on a couple of run-pass option plays, and missed several third-down throws that were open.

“We left some plays on the field, for sure. Some big ones,” co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kent Austin said. “I appreciate Buck takes responsibility and takes ownership. He should, as a quarterback, and some of that is very accurate. He has to be very disciplined and how he executes each play physically to give everyone around him a chance for success.”

Calvert threw two interceptions against the Orange for his sixth multi-interception game in his past seven outings.

“I’ve got to do a better job seeing the field and recognizing coverages and getting the receivers the ball when they’re open,” Calvert said.

Calvert was forced to drop back to pass frequently because of an ineffective running game that netted minus 4 yards on the ground, the fewest rushing yards in a game for Liberty since the 2016 season finale at Coastal Carolina (minus 23).

Hickson had a team-high 29 rushing yards on 11 carries, while Peytton Pickett had the longest run of 12 yards against the Orange.

Freeze said there will be an open competition at one of the offensive line positions, while not mentioning which particular spot was in limbo, after the running game never got going and Calvert was under duress at times with unblocked linemen coming at him.

“The great thing and the worst thing about offensive line play is if all five don’t get the job done, you can look bad,” Freeze said. “That’s one of the best things about football, that unit has to function as one, which is one of the great teaching tools of football, is being functioning together. There were times that I thought, man, we had three guys that won their combo or won their battle and then we have one guy that did not and it causes the play to look bad.”

The Sunday film study was beneficial for the offense to see the flaws and understand what steps they needed to take in order to improve.

“Just a lot of small mistakes, a lot of small mental things and just technique things that we can fix, small things that make or break plays. We had a lot of those small things,” Gandy-Golden said. “I said it on Saturday, too, but watching the film was exactly what we thought it was. Just got to get those cleaned up and go into it with a new-game mindset and just play the next play, keep it going.”

Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.

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Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.

Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550. Follow him on Twitter: @DamienSordelett

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