A suspension to one of Liberty’s top returning wide receivers opened the door for DJ Stubbs to get the opportunity for significant snaps at slot receiver Saturday night against Old Dominion.
The speedy sophomore made sure he took advantage each time.
Stubbs had a career performance with 155 receiving yards to open up the offense, and Liberty began its tenure in the Football Bowl Subdivision with a resounding 52-10 thrashing of the Monarchs before an announced crowd of 20,425 at expanded Williams Stadium.
“Every opportunity is so precious nowadays that whatever opportunity you get you have to take advantage of,” Stubbs said. “I feel that was a blessing. … I took it and ran with it.”
Stubbs, who caught seven passes for 50 yards last season, eclipsed his freshman season numbers in one half against the Monarchs (0-1), and his 35-yard touchdown reception on the Flames’ first drive was the first time he found the end zone in a Liberty uniform.
His touchdown reception came on a screen pass where he eluded a pair of tacklers, used Antonio Gandy-Golden’s block on the perimeter and then delivered a stiff arm to finish the catch and run.
“He did phenomenal,” Gandy-Golden said of Stubbs, who started in place of suspended senior Damian King. “ … We expected him to make those plays and he did exactly what we expected him to do.”
Stubbs’ performance was one of many highlights in an FBS debut the Flames (1-0) couldn’t have scripted better. The game drew national attention last season when it was revealed Liberty agreed to pay the Monarchs a $1.32 million guarantee.
“We’re just so happy for the victory,” Flames coach Turner Gill said.
The payout was worth every penny with an explosive second-half offense and a much-needed defensive performance.
The defense, much maligned in the second half of last season, held the Monarchs to 301 yards of offense (150 in the second half) and limited the potent ODU rushing attack to 129 yards on 39 attempts.
“The D-line did a great job” LU cornerback Jeremy Peters said. “ … They stepped up and they did their job.”
The Flames scored on six consecutive possessions spanning the third and fourth quarters to seize control after racing out to a two-touchdown lead and watching ODU methodically chip away by closing the deficit to 14-10 following Steven Williams’ 1-yard touchdown run with 9:55 remaining in the second quarter.
LU had 102 yards of offense after the first two series but was limited to 103 yards for the reminder of the first half.
The defense was able to force ODU kicker Nick Rice to attempt a pair of long field goals, 40 and 38 yards, and he missed both in the second quarter to prevent the Monarchs for either cutting into the deficit or taking the lead into halftime.
“We knew the defense did what they needed to do to stop them,” Gandy-Golden said.
Kentory Matthews, bottled up for the majority of the game, scored on a 57-yard scamper to highlight his 101-yard performance and give the Flames a 24-10 lead.
“We were wearing them down,” Matthews said. “ … I just don’t think they could keep up with the pace we were going at.”
Quarterback Buckshot Calvert threw a pair of touchdown passes to his favorite target, Gandy-Golden, and Peytton Pickett made the most of his LU debut with rushing touchdowns of 53 and 2 yards to put the Flames ahead 52-10 with a little more than six minutes remaining.
Calvert completed 25 of 36 passes for 345 yards and four touchdowns, and he was 9 of 12 for 205 yards in the second half.
The Flames racked up 591 yards of offense with 238 coming on the ground.
Gandy-Golden caught six passes for 53 yards and three touchdowns while wearing a splint on his right wrist after sustaining an injury in a car accident over the summer.
“After the first series or so, we could see that we had the numbers and they couldn’t stop us,” Gandy-Golden said.