The typical upbeat tunes of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September,” a popular staple during a Liberty football practice, were replaced with the BYU fight song, Darude’s “Sandstorm” and crowd noises blaring throughout the Liberty Football Indoor Practice Facility.
Flames coach Hugh Freeze wanted to come as close as possible to replicating how loud it could be Saturday when Liberty plays BYU at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
“I looked and they’ve averaged 60,000 for their home games, so it’s going to be louder than any stadium we’ve played in this year,” Freeze said following Thursday’s practice. “Certainly we’re going to prepare our kids for what it could be. I’ve never played there, I don’t know how to simulate the altitude issue, but I do know how to simulate crowd noise. We were not going to let that be the first night we had some.”
The Cougars have played four home games this season and are averaging an announced attendance of 61,305 per contest.
BYU welcomed a season-high 62,546 fans for a Sept. 14 meeting against USC. The season low came on Oct. 19 when 58,930 fans watched the Cougars upset Boise State.
Elevating to new heights
Provo, Utah is 4,553 feet above sea level to mark the highest elevation the Flames will play at this season.
Liberty’s Oct. 5 matchup against New Mexico State in Las Cruces, New Mexico, was around 3,900 feet elevation. Most of the players on the roster traveled to Albuquerque last season, and that city is 5,312 feet above sea level.
“We’ve been hydrating all week,” Freeze said. “I think that’s the key, and I think another element to it is the 4 1/2-hour flight, that’s tough. It takes more out of you; it’s hydration, too. We’re going to really pump fluids. We’ve got our oxygen stuff on the sideline, but it’s more about hydration, eating properly and fluids.”
Speaking of the flight …
The flight from Lynchburg to Provo is nearly similar in length as the Flames’ trip from Lynchburg to El Paso one month ago, which should help the players prepare for what’s in store Friday.
“It may help with the flight, but the elevation there was not anything compared to what we’re going to face here” Freeze said. “As far as the time on the flight, this one is a little longer but similar, so that helps. It will be quite different when we get on the ground.”
The lengthy trip will be the first for Freeze with the team on the charter flight.
He flew separately to Louisiana and New Mexico State as he recovered from an Aug. 16 back surgery for a staph infection.
“I’m going to give it a shot,” he said. “I may fly back with President Falwell if I’m hurting. They’re going to it, so I may fly back with him if I’m hurting.”
Ideal off weeks
Thanks to the college football season kicking off before Labor Day, FBS teams had 14 weeks to schedule 12 games. That leaves two openings for off weeks during the lengthy season.
The Liberty staff of Ian McCaw and Mickey Guridy were able to slot those off weeks following the trips to New Mexico State and BYU.
“That’s as ideal as you can make it,” Freeze said. “Do I want to take a 4 1/2-hour trip to a football game in November? Never would I want to do that. But if you’re going to do it, an open week after surely is helpful.”
Liberty, however, wasn’t so lucky last season. The Flames played at New Mexico and at New Mexico State in back-to-back weeks and followed that up by hosting Troy before the open week.
Freeze is allowing his players to focus on becoming bowl eligible after last weekend’s dominating performance at UMass.
The Flames need one victory to become bowl eligible, and they already own a victory over a likely bowl eligible team (Buffalo) and a triumph over a program like BYU would be a resume builder in the eyes of perspective bowls should the American Athletic and Sun Belt conferences fill the Cure Bowl slots.
“That would be special, it really would,” Freeze said. “We know we have a tall task this week and [two weeks from now] playing two, what I consider, Power 5 teams with where we are in our early stages of this FBS program. We know that those are tall orders. It would make getting bowl eligible pretty special.”
Sophomores Austin Lewis and JaVon Scruggs both were in pads and were participating in Thursday’s open portion of practice. Freeze said they’ve been in pads since Tuesday.
He also said slot receivers Shedro Louis and Damian King are good to go.
Louis is slated to return kickoffs.
“That’s the plan. That’s what he did today,” Freeze said. “Unless something happens between now and then.”
Benjamin Alexander, who Freeze said Monday suffered a sprain of his left shoulder, was a full participant in Thursday’s practice.
Notes from earlier in the week
» Freeze joined Clay Travis on Fox Sports Radio for “Outkicking the Coverage” Monday morning and spent the majority of the 20-minute interview discussing his back injury, the recovery and where the program is in his first season.
Travis also brought up Willie Taggart’s firing at Florida State, and mentioned Freeze’s name was a popular choice to take over the Seminoles job.
Freeze was asked during his Monday press conference about that:
“The world today is just a different world,” he said. “Willie Taggart is a good man and I hate to see anyone. I’ve gone through the public loss of a job and it’s not fun on your family, your kids, and there’s so many people involved there.
“I’ve come to grips that my name just floats around a lot for anything that creates a story, it sounds like, and most of which is never true. Man, I’m so excited to have the opportunity to do what I do here. That’s it.”
» Quarterback Henry Van Dellen traveled with the team for the first time to UMass last weekend, giving the Flames four available quarterbacks.
“He gave us the best chance if we needed a guy to throw it down the field to win a game, he’s probably the next best on our available roster right now,” Freeze said. “That’s why he traveled.”