Liberty vs. Syracuse

Liberty quarterback Buckshot Calvert hands the ball off to running back Joshua Mack during the first half against Syracuse on Saturday, Aug. 31 at Williams Stadium.

The Liberty football program spends 40 minutes on the field following Sunday’s film review, which gives the coaching staff a hands-on way to help players better understand the things they saw that need correcting.

This past Sunday’s walkthrough proved an eye-opening experience for running back Joshua Mack, his fellow backs and the offensive line in their quest to establish a consistent run attack.

“I think our main problem was lining our tracks up with the O-line. It was kind of like O-line was doing one thing and we were doing another thing, in a sense. It wasn’t gelling,” Mack said Monday. “[Flames coach Hugh] Freeze brought us in Sunday, and we went over some corrections and things like that.”

Liberty (2-2) found success on the ground against Football Championship Subdivision program Hampton, particularly in the fourth quarter when the Flames’ overall depth wore down the Pirates.

The Flames racked up a season-high 256 rushing yards in the matchup, which featured a 176-yard output in the fourth quarter when backup quarterback Brandon Robinson only attempted one pass.

Robinson and fourth-string running back Troy Henderson accounted for 134 of those fourth-quarter yards on lengthy touchdown runs of 75 (Robinson) and 59 (Henderson) yards to help pad the team’s statistics.

Those runs made the Flames jump 20 spots from 127th to 107th nationally in rushing yards per game (117.5).

Frankie Hickson’s two touchdowns were the only rushing scores through the first three weeks. The team now sits in a tie for 39th in the nation with eight rushing scores after tallying six with five different players against the Pirates.

“Going over film on Sunday, there was a lot of plays out there could have been big runs, even big, explosive touchdowns for us,” Mack said. “That meeting for us Sunday, that cleared up a lot for me and the running back group.”

Despite the success on the ground Saturday, the Flames know there’s still work to do. If you take away those two touchdown runs against Hampton, plus Hickson’s 66-yard touchdown scamper at Louisiana in Week 2, the Flames average 2.18 yards per attempt (270 yards on 124 carries).

Sixty-seven of the Flames’ 127 rushing attempts have netted between no gain and 5 yards, and 28 attempts have resulted in a loss of yardage (with 15 of those losses coming from sacks).

Liberty has posted just 32 rushes for gains between 6 and 20 yards.

“I think we did some things [Sunday] that may help us some,” Freeze said. “There’s some more rushing yards out there that we don’t get because we choose to pull it and throw it. I can help that some by the way I call the game. At the end of the game, you want to look and make sure your average is hopefully around 4 to 5 [yards per carry].”

Freeze’s RPO-based offense is centered on what the quarterback reads before the snap, and often quarterback Buckshot Calvert, based on what he sees in the defensive alignment, has gone with the pass to help move the offense down the field.

The senior has completed 33 of 46 passes for 644 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions over his past two games.

“I feel for the most part it’s pretty solid with my decision-making,” Calvert said Monday. “Of course, we want to improve, but some plays get a little iffy, and then when it’s in doubt, hand the ball off and get what we get, get the dirty runs and live to see the next play.”

In victories over Buffalo and Hampton, the Flames in the fourth quarter have chosen to mostly run the ball and have found success then thanks to an extra tight end being used to create open lanes.

But coaches still want to see improvement in the ability to establish the run through the first three quarters. A productive running attack early will allow for more explosive options in the passing game if defenses are forced to bring an extra man into the box.

The Flames are averaging 2.47 yards per carry through the first three quarters this season.

“There’s a lot of runs out there that you’ll see [on film] — if you go and watch even the first two games over again — that if we had the tracks and reads that we went over Sunday, would have been more explosive runs,” Mack said. “Going forward to the rest of the season, being in sync with the O-line and even the quarterbacks, that’s going to help us to bump our average up and to get this run game 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.

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