What Liberty coach Hugh Freeze said Monday about facing BYU on the Flames’ home turf
Why Liberty football coach says BYU’s visit Saturday is the ‘fulfillment of a vision’ and a special moment for his school
How big of deal is BYU’s visit to Liberty this Saturday for an ESPNU-televised matchup of private, faith-based, football-playing institutions for the Flames and their fans in Lynchburg, Virginia?
Liberty coach Hugh Freeze called it a historic moment in the history of the school on Monday when he met with reporters to discuss 6-1 Liberty’s 21-20 win over Gardner-Webb last week and this week’s matchup with the 4-3 and struggling Cougars.
“It is (an opportunity) that should be welcomed. It is a great, great challenge, yet one we should be excited (about) and embrace with a faith and belief that we have done something well to make a game that has some significance in a lot of people’s minds about playing such a great program like BYU at our home, being in this position.” — Liberty coach Hugh Freeze
“We are walking in the fulfillment of a vision that started from nothing, really, other than a belief,” Freeze said. “And to be able to walk in that, I know that Dr. (Jerry) Falwell (Sr.) would be just ecstatic to see the crowd, the atmosphere and everything that is going to be on Saturday afternoon (1:30 p.m. MDT) here playing a team that he has such high regard for, as do I, in BYU. Hopefully we embrace that part of it also.”
Falwell, a Baptist pastor and televangelist, founded Liberty University in 1971, and often spoke of his admiration for BYU’s football program until his death in 2007.
BYU and Liberty agreed to a football series in 2017, with the Cougars winning 31-24 in Provo on Nov. 9, 2019, and now making the return visit on Saturday in their final season as a college football independent before joining the Big 12 in 2023.
Liberty has been independent in football, too, but is moving to Conference USA in 2023. The Flames have played at the FBS level since 2018. In 1970, Falwell first shared his vision that Liberty athletics would become for evangelical Christians what BYU is to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Freeze concluded his news conference Monday with this: “We need the students and fans and we need all the help we can get to be there to give us enough energy to hopefully make it an exciting fourth quarter.
“So come on out. It is going to be a great day of celebration of kinda where the vision has come that Dr. Falwell cast many years ago.”
In his opening comments, Freeze said the matchup is important to a lot of people at Liberty and is a great “opportunity” for the program that started playing football in 1973.
“It is (an opportunity) that should be welcomed,” Freeze said. “It is a great, great challenge, yet one we should be excited (about) and embrace with a faith and belief that we have done something well to make a game that has some significance in a lot of people’s minds about playing such a great program like BYU at our home, being in this position.”
BYU (4-3) is coming off an embarrassing 52-35 loss to Arkansas and is only a four- or five-point favorite Saturday.
Freeze wasn’t happy with how his team, one of only 16 bowl-eligible teams in the country, played against 2-5 Gardner-Webb.
“We played a very poor football game offensively, and (on) third down, and (with) penalties on defense,” he said. “… That’s very frustrating to me. I haven’t felt like this in a long, long, long time. Don’t know that I have ever felt like it, truthfully.”
Freeze said even though the polls “beat you up” when you lose, BYU is a “top-25 team in the country” and could be ranked.
“Their strength of schedule (is good), I mean, Oregon, Baylor, Notre Dame, Arkansas. I mean, they have to have one of the toughest strength of schedules in the nation and Utah State is a really good team, too,” Freeze said. “They will play anyone. They are a Power Five team that plays probably a harder schedule than a lot of Power Five conference teams because of where they are currently. It is a tall, tall challenge.”
Former University of Utah quarterback Charlie Brewer, who lost 26-17 to BYU in 2021, was Liberty’s starting QB at the beginning of the season, but broke his hand in the season opener and was said at the time to be sidelined six to eight weeks.
Freeze said Brewer wasn’t close to playing against Gardner-Webb, but “there was drastic improvement over the weekend” and didn’t rule him out against BYU.
“We will have to see how the week progresses,” Freeze said.
Here are more comments from Freeze on BYU and Saturday’s game
On knowing BYU coach Kalani Sitake:
“Kalani Sitake is one of the finest human beings that you will ever meet. And he loves his players. I just enjoy being around this guy. I love his core values, what he is about, and it will be fun getting to visit with him. ... I am excited about the challenge. I wish they weren’t very good, but they are really good. And credit goes to him and his staff and his players.
On BYU’s personnel:
“Super talented team. Defensively they are very multiple. That is a little different. Probably the best linebacker group we have faced, for sure. The D line is strong. But they have done a lot of different looks, depending on the game. We have to figure out what they are going to play us.
“Offensively, this quarterback is a true dual threat. He’s a problem. And really good running backs. O line is huge. Receivers are really talented. This is one of the best teams we’ve faced. They are right there with Wake Forest, maybe a little better at some places.”
On Liberty tight end Bentley Hanshaw, a 23-year-old transfer from BYU:
“Well, he’s a mature young man. But physically he still has a ways to go. He needs to gain some girth and all of that. But he is playing significant snaps for us, even where he is at.
“Kalani was incredible in that whole experience, and trying to help both parties. Kalani is that type of guy. He is for these young men and kids that are in our programs, and in his case, he’s got a lot of 25-year-olds. Bentley is going to be one of those for us hopefully, and I hope he gains about 30 pounds for the next three seasons.
“I am sure it will mean a lot for Bentley to see his old friends and old coaches. He will want to compete and win also.”
On if playing big opponents like BYU motivates Liberty’s players more:
“If we are having to jump through hoops and create some circus atmosphere to get our kids to want to compete against BYU or Arkansas, we are probably in big, big trouble. So I don’t think our team looks at it like, ‘Hey, we have checked the box to be bowl eligible and now we can just put it on cruise.’ I certainly hope not. I don’t sense that at all. I don’t believe that is the case.”
On the maturity of BYU’s players due to many having served missions:
“Yeah, this is big-boy football, for sure. And we are going to be really undersized in a lot of matchups, and it is going to take enormous straining to win on every play, for us to have a chance to win this in the fourth quarter. It is going to take all of our kids doing that. But there is no question that the physical presence of their team is daunting when you look at it, really.”
On BYU quarterback Jaren Hall’s ability:
“He is just a tough young man. Smart, savvy, confident. Uses his legs when he needs to, and can throw it. So he’s a tough matchup.”
On BYU receiver Puka Nacua’s versatility:
“They are just really well-coached, got a really good scheme and they got good athletes at the receiver and tight end and running back position to go with their dual threat quarterback and their huge offensive line. In all these games, (Sitake) didn’t say in his postgame press conference that they were struggling offensively, I hope. Because they are putting up points against everybody, some really good teams. So they have got a good scheme and good players.”
Cougars on the air
BYU (4-3) at Liberty (6-1)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MDT
Radio: KSL NewsRadio 102.7 FM/1160 AM