Liberty football trying to make New Year’s Six noise at Virginia Tech

An undefeated Liberty football gets its biggest test yet as Virginia Tech welcomes it in hope of breaking the Flames’ winning streak.

When Liberty made the transition from the FCS to FBS level, there would be questions of whether they would be relevant. A lot of momentum was made in their final season in 2017, when they shocked the country and beat Baylor in Waco.

Liberty exceeded expectations in 2018 and 2019, when the Flames went 6-6 and 8-5 in their two seasons prior to this year as an Independent.

Now, the quietest team in college football is undefeated and a chance at making monumental noise as the best Group of Five team. With BYU and Cincinnati getting more attention, the Flames have a chance to stay undefeated with a big game in Blacksburg against Virginia Tech.

The Flames are lead onto the field by dynamic Malik Willis. The junior has taken the starting job, after being used sparingly during his tenure at Auburn, before transferring to the Flames in 2019. Willis is the definition of a dual threat quarterback as he is also the team’s leading rusher, with 495 yards and six touchdowns with his legs.

When Willis does throw the ball, the leading target has been DJ Stubbs. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound junior matched his touchdown total from last year and has 375 yards on his 2020 campaign so far.

They are lead on defense by quick edge rusher Durrell Johnson. Johnson has had a fantastic season, collecting 24 tackles, seven for loss, and six sacks, through the team’s first six contests.

For Virginia Tech, they got back on the right track last week, beating Louisville in Kentucky, 31-24. After a lackluster performance against Wake Forest last week that included three interceptions , Hendon Hooker looked to be in full health.

He was a perfect 10-for-10 throwing, for 183 yards. Hooker also won with his legs, as he scored three times on the ground, accumulating 68 yards in the process.

Khalil Herbert continues to show how big of an impact transfer he has been, as he had a wonderful game against the Cardinals. The Kansas transfer rushed for 147 yards on 21 carries and added a touchdown.

Although the Virginia Tech defense gave up a lot of yards and touchdowns, they were also forcing turnovers consistently. The Hokies forced three turnovers, led by Chamarri Conner who finished with nine tackles, a pass deflection and an interception.

Liberty made their first appearance in the AP Top 25 poll this past week as the Flames were slotted in at No. 25. Three years into their FBS experience, it’s quite a miracle what Hugh Freeze has done for the program. This game is slated to be one of the better noon kickoffs, as both teams have something to prove in this non-conference affair.

Here’s how to watch the matchup between the Hokies and the Flames.

Date: Saturday, Nov. 7
Time: 12 p.m. ET
Location:
Blacksburg, Va.
Venue: Lane Stadium
TV: ACC Network
Live Stream: ACC Network Live | FuboTV

Keys to Victory

Although the defense statistically doesn’t look too bad, this will be Liberty’s biggest test yet. Giving up 35 to Southern Miss two weeks ago isn’t the most attractive, although it is well known this Liberty team can score (38 points per game). Finding ways to neutralize this at times, explosive Virginia Tech offense is so critical.

Containing the run game, with both Herbert and Hooker’s ability to be excellent runners. To go along with outside threats like Tre Turner and James Mitchell. If Liberty can play close to the level of defense Wake Forest did, they have a shot in this game.

For Virginia Tech, it’s not quite as tough. Defensively, lean on your advantage and that’s forcing turnovers. The Hokies have 11 total turnovers on the season and have two major outlets to worry about on offense in Stubbs and Willis.

Tech has three guys with two interceptions and maybe, the best JUCO player from this past year in the ACC in Amare Barno. Getting rush to clog holes and force Willis to make plays with his arm is critical. Virginia Tech can force turnovers, this game will be well in hand for the Hokies.

Predictions:

This has been a fantastic season for Hugh Freeze and one game won’t determine the 2020 season for the Flames. Momentum in winning and recruiting has gotten so much better for the young FBS program (17 commits in the 2021 recruiting class).

However, this is a game where the Hokies have more talent on the offensive side of the ball. Liberty has only been tested by one other Power Five team and it might be one of the worst ones in the country in Syracuse.

Defense could be a minimum as the expectation is for these teams to be high scoring. Big plays, dynamic playmakers, and points should be on display throughout. In the end, this ends up being a quality win for Virginia Tech. Hooker and Herbert gash the Flames up front and the Hokies get a turnover late to derail Liberty and improve to 5-2

Final Score: Virginia Tech 45, Liberty 34