LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) — Hugh Freeze figures he will someday be the answer to a trivia question, one concerning the most unusual debut for a coach at a new school.
The first-year Liberty coach watched from a hospital bed in the coaching box Saturday night as No. 22 Syracuse outlasted his mistake-prone Flames, 24-0.
Still recovering from back surgery for a herniated disk on Aug. 16 and a staph infection, Freeze was told to stay off his feet for the weekend. He was in communication with his coaches and players during the game, called many of the Flames’ first- and second-down plays and addressed the team before and after the game, as well as at halftime, from a barely upright position to protect his healing back.
“I don’t know how much it played” a factor, he said of not being on the sidelines. “I think me being gone for two weeks probably had an effect somewhat on some things.”
So did the Orange, who arrived with a highly regarded defense and showed why.
They sacked Stephen Calvert eight times for minus 51 yards, limited the Flames to minus-4 rushing yards and forced four turnovers, continuing trends they started last season.
“The thing that was really exciting was that a lot of those eight sacks weren’t even pressures,” Orange coach Dino Babers said. “Those are just three-man rushes and four-man rushes, somebody beating a guy and getting home.”
Abdul Adams, Jarveon Howard and Moe Neal ran for touchdowns for the Orange, who started slowly behind new quarterback Tommy DeVito. They led just 10-0 at halftime thanks to Andre Szmyt’s 45-yard field goal and Adams’ 2-yard run. An interception by Andre Cisco set Syracuse up at the Flames’ 37 and Howard capped a five-play drive with a 1-yard run. Neal’s 42-yard burst capped the scoring.
Babers thought the slow start was 50 percent opening-game jitters and 50 percent unfamiliarity with what Liberty intended to do.
“You have to understand this group didn’t see this on tape,” he said. “We didn’t get to practice those looks.”
Calvert threw two interceptions, as many as Freeze had said the fourth-year starter had thrown in all of fall camp, and seemed to forget that Freeze has preached to him to have a clock in his head that keeps him aware of when he needs to get rid of the ball. Freeze said the fourth-year starter also missed some reads he hadn’t missed in camp, but added: “I don’t think it had a lot to do with the outcome.”
The Orange front four “gave us fits,” Freeze said. “Once we were not effective running the football, they really were teeing off on us and made it very difficult on our offensive line. You always have to at least have the appearance of being balanced. … Once we became, in their mind, one-dimensional, you’re fighting a very hard uphill battle.”
Syracuse: DeVito came in with a reputation for having a big arm, but displayed a bit of gunslinger mentality, too, when he tried to rifle a pass into the back left corner of the end zone just before halftime and Bejour Wilson intercepted for the Flames’ second interception. The first came in the opening quarter when DeVito threw deep from his 42 and Ceneca Espinoza Jr. pulled it down at the 3 yard-line. DeVito finished 17 of 35 for 176 yards. “He’ll be more patient. He’ll be better the next one,” Babers said.
Liberty: Antonio Gandy-Golden came into the game as the receiver to watch for the Flames, and was the only one to watch for most of the night. He had five catches for 115 yards by halftime, including a 56-yarder he took to the Orange five. Two plays later, Liberty fumbled it away. Gandy-Golden finished with six catches for 119 yards, exactly half of the 238 yards the Flames managed through the air.
I”LL TAKE THAT
Syracuse led all Power Five conference teams last year with 31 turnovers and picked up right where it left off, forcing four by Liberty.
“I’ll tell you what, it was good that we had those four turnovers when our offense gave up two and our special teams gave up one,” Babers said.
Syracuse was solid on defense, but did little else to enhance its Top 25 status.
Syracuse: The Orange remain on the road, playing at Maryland.
Liberty: The Flames go on the road for the first time, playing at Louisiana.
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