Hugh Freeze spent two seasons coaching in the Sun Belt Conference with Arkansas State in 2010 and 2011. He was the Red Wolves’ offensive coordinator in 2010 before being promoted to head coach the following season, so he is acutely aware of the atmosphere Liberty faces Saturday evening against Louisiana at Cajun Field.
“If you haven’t been there, they show up,” Freeze said Monday. “They show up for that game in numbers and droves, and they’ve had a good time all day before they get to kickoff. It’s a hostile place to play. I’ve been down there once and it was hostile and we were fortunate to get out of there with a win, but it was sure difficult.”
Saturday night’s matchup could serve as a much better barometer for where the Liberty program is currently in Freeze’s first season at the helm. The Flames lost 24-0 to 22nd-ranked Syracuse, a Power 5 program that is expected to challenge reigning national champion Clemson for supremacy in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Liberty doesn’t play another power conference program until Nov. 23 at Virginia, but many consider the Nov. 9 trip to BYU as another test against a team often said in the same breath as Notre Dame as successful independent programs.
“I think Year 1 is hard to tell what the barometer is really until you kind of get a roster that you feel like is made up of similar type recruited players as the schools that you’re facing,” Freeze said. “Obviously I love the kids that we have here and I love the effort that they’re giving us, and I think we’re going to win some football games this year.
“It’s kind of hard in Year 1 to say exactly how we match up with a school that’s been at the G5 level for a while. That’s hard for me to guess and hard for me to say. Every game is a barometer for sure.
“I thought the barometer the other night was we played a Top 25 team here in our first game and I thought it easily could have been a 10- or a seven-point game had we performed halfway decent offensively.
“There will be another barometer this week against one of the Sun Belt’s better teams traditionally. I coached in that conference, and Arkansas State and Louisiana and App State are three of the ones that you always think are going to be at the top of this very difficult place to play.”
Freeze was offensive coordinator in 2010 when Arkansas State visited Cajun Field, a game the Ragin’ Cajuns won 31-24. The Red Wolves returned the favor the following season with Freeze as the head coach, a 30-21 triumph that was part of an eight-win conference season.
Not many passing grades
Freeze and his staff graded each player based on how they performed against Syracuse. The Flames coach heaped praise on most of the defensive players ranging from all four cornerbacks, safety Elijah Benton and the linemen.
On offense? That’s a different story entirely, with wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden and right guard Dontae Duff receiving passing grades.
“AGG played phenomenal. Duff played pretty good up front,” he said. “Outside of that, no one received a grade to which we would think was a successful outing. And they know that. They understand it.”
Khaleb Coleman was slowed by a left knee injury during training camp and returned to practice last Tuesday. He played sparingly at outside receiver at caught three passes for 25 yards against the Orange.
“I will say that I thought Khaleb functioned fairly well early on,” Freeze said, “but he’s out of shape because he’s been out of practice so much, and I thought as the game wore on, he got a little lazy in his mechanics and the DBs really got into his chest early on the release, which really hurt some routes. He did do some good things, so hopefully his knee will continue to progress this week, too.”
Freeze the best case scenario for redshirt freshman wide receiver Noah Frith’s recovery from a fractured right foot is four weeks, and this week will mark two weeks since the injury. That timetable puts Frith at returning by the New Mexico game on Sept. 28 at the earliest.
“We miss him. Loved to have a bigger target on the other side, on the outside for sure,” Freeze said.
Another big wide receiver, true freshman CJ Yarbough, is expected to be back for this weekend’s game at Louisiana. Yarbrough did not play against Syracuse while going through the concussion protocol.
“I expect CJ to be ready to go,” Freeze said. “[Barry Finke, senior associate athletic trainer for football] report this morning was he was symptom-free, and they’ll take him through a battery and now some physical tests. I expect CJ will be able to go.”
Freeze said he did not receive updates for safety Hunter Goetz (hamstring) and defensive lineman William Green on Monday morning. Green wore a protective boot on his left foot during Saturday night’s game.
Freeze listed both as day-to-day.