LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) — Abdul Adams, Jarveon Howard and Moe Neal ran for touchdowns and No. 22 Syracuse spoiled a most unusual debut for Hugh Freeze as Liberty’s coach with a 24-0 victory on Saturday night.
Still recovering from back surgery for a herniated disk on Aug. 16 and a staph infection, Freeze coached from a hospital bed in the coaching box. The school said he was in communication with his coaches and players during the game and that the bed was used to support his healing back. Freeze addressed the team before the game via video hook-up, again at halftime and after the game as well.
He couldn’t have liked much of what he saw.
Stephen Calvert threw two interceptions, as many as Freeze had said the fourth-year starter had thrown in all of fall camp, and was sacked eight times by a defense that returned players responsible for 34 sacks last season, the most in the football subdivision.
The coach said the Orange front four “gave us fits. 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.”
With quarterback Tommy DeVito taking over the Syracuse offense, the Orange 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 in the third quarter 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 in the final quarter.
Orange coach Dino Babers said he 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.”
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.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25