Liberty Louisiana-Lafayette Football

Liberty running back Frankie Hichson (23) gets tackled by Louisiana-Lafayette players in an NCAA college football game in Lafayette, La., Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019. (Brad Kemp/The Advocate via AP)

LAFAYETTE, La. — Hugh Freeze has said during the early stages of his tenure as Liberty’s football coach his program still needs to build depth on both sides of the ball, and the deeper and more experienced Football Bowl Subdivision programs have the potential to exploit the Flames’ weaknesses.

Louisiana, one of the better Group of five programs from the Sun Belt Conference, put on a clinic in how to wear down a team still getting its feet wet in college football’s top tier.

The Ragin’ Cajuns battered the Flames’ defensive front with their powerful running game and scored the game’s final four touchdowns in a 35-14 triumph Saturday evening at Cajun Field.

“I think you see that. I think, again, just like last week, this game should have been closer, in my opinion,” Freeze said. “Certainly not saying we should have beaten them because the second half I thought they were the more dominant football team.

“I’m certain [roster depth] has a lot to do with it, and I think it shows. I’m just ready for us to execute properly a large percentage of the time and let’s see what the scoreboard says. Right now we’re not, and so what we have to do as coaches is look at what is it that’s not being communicated effectively. We have to look at ourselves first, and then try to help each individual learn in whichever manner is best for their learning.

“Right now we’re giving away too many opportunities that we have, and you can’t win football games against two teams doing that.”

Liberty (0-2), in its second season as an FBS member, is still building quality depth across the board. Freeze reiterated many times during the early stages of training camp that most of the roster was recruited to play at the Football Championship Subdivision level, and the process of developing the talent level to compete with most FBS programs will take time.

Louisiana (1-1) used its veteran offensive line and experienced tailbacks to methodically wear down the Flames, then produced explosive plays to take control in the second half.

Louisiana racked up more than 400 rushing yards and had two running backs eclipse 90 rushing yards for the first time this season and the sixth time in the past 16 games.

“I think we ran out of gas. I think we ran out of gas,” Liberty defensive coordinator Scott Symons said. “I think we were banged up; I thought they were really big and physical and credit to those guys, I thought they whooped us. I thought they whooped us. You could see at times even when we had them stopped at the line of scrimmage, it should have been a one- or two-yard gains, not seven-yard gains, six-yard gains.”

Trey Ragas led the way with 129 rushing yards and a 75-yard touchdown run on nine carries, and Raymond Calais added 111 yards on eight carries, which included a 68-yard scamper on the Cajuns’ first offensive play of the second quarter.

Louisiana had 233 rushing yards in the second quarter alone as the Cajuns’ two big runs from Ragas and Calais came in the frame. The Flames took a 14-7 lead on Frankie Hickson’s career-long 66-yard touchdown run, but Ragas scored two plays later to tie the score, and the Cajuns were in complete control from that point forward.

The Flames had 221 yards of offense following Hickson’s touchdown run, and only had 115 yards the rest of the game. The Cajuns’ defense pressured quarterback Buckshot Calvert and never allowed the Liberty passing attack to get into a rhythm.

The Flames, competitive in last week’s season opener against Syracuse, took their opening drive and scored on DJ Stubbs’ 12-yard touchdown reception.

The defense forced stops that resulted in missed field goals, but the unit began to succumb to the Cajuns’ overpowering running attack.

Liberty was sure with its tackles against Syracuse, but Louisiana’s running backs and skill players broke through attempted tackles and turn modest plays into major gains.

Hickson helped the Flames’ running game overcome last week’s minus-4-yard performance against Syracuse. He rushed for 133 yards on 18 carries and now has rushed for 2,019 yards in his career.

“We were a little bit more successful this week,” Hickson said.

Calvert completed 21 of 37 passes for 212 yards and one touchdown with one interception.

Louisiana kicker Stevie Artigue had a first half to forget. He missed a trio of field goals from 42, 44 and 38 yards to prevent the Cajuns from taking control earlier than they did.

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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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