If you only look at the surface, it’s easy to dismiss the Liberty football team.
After all, the Flames are in their second year as an FBS program and while they do have a 6-3 record, their four FBS wins have come over teams with a combined record of 7-27.
That is likely why the oddsmakers have put BYU as a 17-point favorite over Liberty for Saturday’s contest at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo.
But if the Cougar football players and coaches want to get their first three-game win streak of the season, then know they have to take the Flames very, very seriously.
“I’m looking forward to this week and having our guys preparing well to take on a team that’s really explosive, especially on the offensive side because they have some amazing athletes,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said in Monday’s press conference. “I’m looking forward to our game against Liberty. Hugh Freeze is a really good coach and his staff has a lot of experience. They’ve been at a lot of different places and done a lot of things in college football, so I’m looking forward to that matchup.”
After two straight wins in regional rivalry games over Utah State and Boise State (something that hadn’t happened since 2015), it might be understandable if the Cougars wanted to savor the success.
But that’s not the way coaches view things.
“There are a lot of different things that we can improve on,” Sitake said. “We’re going to work on that right now and put this game (the Utah State win) away quickly. We celebrated enough, so we’re focused on Liberty today. We’ll make a few corrections and spend less time on the Utah State game as possible because we have to move on and get to the next one.”
Many of the Liberty accolades have been earned by the offense run by head coach Hugh Freeze, which is averaging 33.8 points per game this season.
“I definitely respect him,” Cougar defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said. “I can see with the way his offense plays and the things they do that there is a lot of genius to what they do. They have a good scheme and good players.”
While the BYU defense was proud of its ballhawking in the last couple of games, forcing seven turnovers, the Cougars also know they gave up 880 yards of offense in those contests. They want to show they are better than that.
“It’s a lot of little things here and there,” Tuiaki said. “You give up a play and you see that if you make this correction and that correction, you’ll be OK. Obviously we’d like to hold opponents to three-and-outs and interceptions and fumbles all day, but these have proven to be good offenses.”
The BYU defense will certainly need to play at a high level but running backs coach AJ Steward said the Cougar offense also faces a Liberty defense that presents some challenges.
“They are a scrappy group,” Steward said. “They play hard to the whistle and they have some really good players on their side of the ball. They try to be relatively simple, and I think that helps them be sound in what they do and confident in what they do. Their players fly around and make plays because they aren’t thinking about their responsibilities on a play-to-play basis. I have tremendous amount of respect for what they do and it’s going to be a dogfight for us. We have to go in and make sure we execute because they are going to be where they are supposed to be and play hard. We’re going to have to match that intensity and be physical to get the upper hand.”