Liberty Louisiana-Lafayette Football

Louisiana-Lafayette running back Raymond Calais (4) runs away from Liberty defender Benjamin Alexander (43) for yardage in an NCAA college football game in Lafayette, La., Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019. (Brad Kemp/The Advocate via AP)

LAFAYETTE, La. — Liberty redshirt senior rover Elijah Benton was a bystander for Saturday’s matchup against Louisiana after being ruled out with concussion symptoms.

Flames coach Hugh Freeze said Benton was not cleared to play after sustaining the injury in the opener against Syracuse.

“Missed the heck out of him,” Freeze said.

Benton led the Flames (0-2) with 13 tackles at rover against Syracuse. His absence necessitated moving JaVon Scruggs from free safety to rover, and Isaac Steele got the start at free safety.

“I missed Elijah out there,” said strong safety Ceneca Espionza Jr., who had 6.5 tackles, a forced fumble and one fumble recovery. “I don’t know how much it affected us early because we still had him on the sideline and he was coaching guys up and everything. I don’t really think it played too big of a part.”

Scruggs was credited with 1.5 tackles, while Steele had one solo stop.

“It hurt a lot. It hurt a lot. That was my biggest concern coming into this game,” defensive coordinator and safeties coach Scott Symons said. “He led us in tackles last week and Scruggs is our best tackling high safety, so he replaced him at rover, and we missed that. It was a big deal in the game, especially in the first half with two explosive runs. I felt like that probably would have helped us.

“It’s got to be a next guy up mentality and we’ve got to learn how to embrace that here. We just weren’t good enough. The first half, it wasn’t anything that we hadn’t necessarily practiced — maybe some new formations, shifts, motions, etcetera — but at the end of the day, it’s just assignment football. Too many explosive plays in the run game and our third-down defense was really poor. We couldn’t help ourselves get off the field, and when you do that, you’re going to be in a game like that.”

Scruggs spent some of the third quarter being evaluated in the medical tent, but returned and played in the fourth quarter.

His absence allowed Chris Megginson to receive more playing time in the secondary. The true freshman from Heritage High School, who saw playing time in the opener in the Flames’ two-high safety look, was credited with 3.5 tackles against Louisiana.

“I think we’re kind of rubber meets the road now. I think on a positive, I think we had some young guys come in, Chris Megginson for example, and really came in and, from what I saw on film, he ran the show and did some good things,” Symons said. “I’m happy to see that.

“When you’re playing three, four, five true freshmen out there, there’s going to be a learning curve and I’ve got to understand that as the coordinator, but in the same sense, our expectation is, guys, we’ve got to make a choice: Do we want to practice the right way this week and do we want to have the same focus we had Week 1 in Week 3? Because, quite frankly, I’m sick of this taste in my mouth and I want to find guys that feel the same way that I do. I know we’ve got a lot of guys that feel that way, but we’ve got to make sure all the guys that we’re playing feel that way.”

Another true freshman, Micah Glaize from Brookville High School, made his collegiate debut on special teams.

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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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