Provo • After hosting four well-known, ranked opponents, BYU will welcome a completely new — yet similar — team to LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday. The visiting Liberty Flames are also a football independent and the school has its own version of an Honor Code, fairly comparable to BYU’s.
But who are these guys, really?
Well, for starters, the Flames are playing in their first fully bowl-eligible, NCAA Division I FBS season after a two-year reclassification process. Liberty played it's final season at the FCS level in 2017 and moved over to an FBS independent program for the 2018 season, posting a 6-6 record.
As the 130th FBS program in the country, the Flames are one win away from becoming bowl eligible after routing UMass last week, 63-21.
“They had a vision of what they they wanted to get accomplished,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “Moving into the FBS category of competing and, as an independent, the best thing they’re doing is they’re winning games. Right now, they’re efficient and they have a lot of talent and a lot of talent in skilled positions especially — you see a lot of speed and athleticism.”
While the Cougars finally had an offensive breakout last week at Utah State, Liberty was also putting up big numbers in Amherst, Mass.
The Flames tallied 730 total offense yards — and accumulated 488 of them in the air.
Liberty's senior quarterback Stephen Calvert is 362 yards away from his third consecutive 3,000-yard passing season and 13 completions away from breaking the program's career record for most completions (833).
“Calvert is going to cause some issues for us, but luckily we’ve been able to go against really good quarterbacks,” Sitake said. “I think he’ll fit right into what we see from a lot of different people. The receivers, they have some really big-sized receivers, with great ball skills and they have some really fast and athletic guys that can run around, too, and a big O line.”
BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said the Flames are another solid run-pass-option team. Liberty does a good job of establishing the run, but also makes it difficult to defend the run because they can throw the ball.
But the Flames weakness may also be hidden in their biggest strength.
In Calvert's 31 rushing attempts, the senior has lost 122 yards, and average of -3.9 yards per carry.
The Cougars will have to put pressure on the quarterback to shut down the Liberty passing game. If they aren’t able to put a stop to it, then they’ll have to make sure to senior wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden in front of them.
The senior is having his third consecutive 1,000-yard receiving season and has a career 3,500 receiving yards. All 30 of his career receiving touchdowns have been thrown by Calvert, a Liberty record for most passing TDs by a QB/WR combination.
The Flames have only thrown four interceptions through nine games, while the Cougars have picked off 11 this season.
“As long as we're sound in the way that we're playing, then we'll give our kids a chance to make plays,” Tuiaki said.
Saturday’s game marks the Flames’ first visit out to the Beehive State.
BYU receiver Micah Simon didn’t realize the similarities his Cougars shared with Liberty and only found out about the Flames honor code this week, but he’s more than ready to welcome them to Provo.
“I’m sure it’s a great school, great football program and they keep themselves to a high standard, just how it is here,” Micah Simon said. “That’s something that’s really nice about them.”
LIBERTY AT BYU
At LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo
Kickoff » Saturday, 5:30 p.m.
TV » ESPNU
Radio » KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM; Sirius XM 143/89.1 FM
Records » BYU 4-4; Liberty 6-3
All-time series » First meeting
About BYU » The Cougars are coming off consecutive wins against rivals Boise State and Utah State. … They forced five turnovers and had their season-best performance on offense against the Aggies to regain possession of the Wagon Wheel. … This will be the first meeting with another independent school for BYU this season. … BYU has three quarterbacks listed as possible starters, including Zach Wilson. A decision on that will be made Saturday.
About Liberty » The Flames are one win away from achieving bowl eligibility for the first time (they need seven victories. … Quarterback Stephen Calvert will make his 40th consecutive start on Saturday. … Calvert has thrown for 2,638 yards and 20 TDs with three interceptions on 61.7% passing this season. … The Flames are in the middle of a four-game road swing.