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2019 Virginia Football Opponent Preview: Liberty Flames

Hugh Freeze will be the sixth first-year coach on UVA’s 2019 schedule

Mississippi State v Mississippi Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

This preview is a variation on a them in UVA’s 2019 schedule: what will [insert opponent here] look like in the first year under [insert coach here]? Hugh Freeze is the sixth new hire—and fourth in a row—that the Virginia Cavaliers will play in 2019. Freeze is seeking his football renaissance—and refuge from state schools subject to FOIA laws—in Lynchburg, picking up the mantle left by Turner Gill to usher the Liberty Flames into full FBS competition. With a solid recruiting class already in place from 2019, how quickly can Freeze lift Liberty out of the top division’s bottom tier?

Last Year: 6-6

Two wins over FCS programs were enough to get the Flames to .500 in their first season competing as an FBS team. Despite notching six wins, however, Liberty was excluded from bowl competition because of their transitional status between subdivisions.

Last Time: UVA 45, Liberty 24 (2018)

Bryce Perkins put up four touchdowns—two each through the air and on the ground—to power a comfortable UVA victory. Joe Reed caught two of the touchdown passes and added a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half. Stephen Calvert’s three interceptions hobbled the Flames’ passing attack as Virginia held the visitors to under 160 yards passing.

Comings and Goings

Freeze isn’t the only highly touted new arrival in Lynchburg. Debuting with him this year will be Tayvion Land, a three-star defensive back from Ocean Lakes in Virginia Beach who flipped from Maryland to become Liberty’s highest rated commit ever (per 247). Three more of Liberty’s top ten all-time recruits all arrive on campus this fall: JUCO defensive lineman Elijah James, wide receiver C.J. Yarbrough, and linebacker Brayden Monday. That’s a massive upgrade to Liberty’s previous talent level.

B.J. Farrow and his five touchdown receptions will be missed from the wide receiving corps, but that just means more targets for Antonio Gandy-Golden. And young guns like Land will need to fill in for the departure of defensive backs Jeremy Peters and Corbin Jackson.

2019 X-Factor

Quarterbacking. Calvert’s 439 pass attempts ranked 14th nationally last year; Calvert registered a lower completion percentage (54.7) and more interceptions (18) than any of the 13 players ahead of him. Only Indiana’s Peyton Ramsey had fewer yards on as many attempts. Yikes.

If Freeze can get 2017 Stephen Calvert to return, the Flames might be in business. Against a mostly-FCS schedule that season, Calvert completed 58 percent of his passes for more than 3,300 yards with 29 touchdowns to only six picks. Can Liberty’s increased talent around him elevate Calvert’s game against superior competition?

This Time: UVA vs. Liberty (11/23)

Bronco Mendenhall will need to guard his team against a classic trap game. The Hoos host Liberty after a bye week following the Georgia Tech game, and less than a week before the season-ending showdown with VaTech. Any dulled intensity would be an opening for an underdog—eager to prove itself—to jump up and bite its more established neighbor to the north.