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Kaidon Salter, explosive Liberty offense keeps Buffalo winless in 55-27 thrashing

Salter accounts for six touchdowns on a career-day to post 55 points on a hapless Buffalo defense. Boca Raton Bowl - Liberty v Toledo Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bulls stormed out of the tunnel at UB Stadium aiming to make amends for last week’s debacle. Entering Week 3, Buffalo held the undesirable designation of one of three FBS teams to fall to FCS competition this year.

But this isn’t unfamiliar territory for head coach Maurice Linguist and his program. After all, Buffalo shed an embarrassing Week 2 loss to Holy Cross of the FCS last September and wound up salvaging the season with a 7-6 record, complete with a bowl victory. But this Saturday, things went from bad to worse for Buffalo. In a matchup between winless and untainted records, Liberty improved to 3-0 while Buffalo slipped to 0-3 in a 55-27 thrashing in Upstate New York.

Led by first-year head coach Jamey Chadwell, the architect of Coastal Carolina’s meteoric rise, Liberty came out firing with an explosive offense. It all started with quarterback Kaidon Salter, who stepped up for the performance of a lifetime. The sophomore shattered his career-high by gunning for 344 yards. He averaged 21.5 yards per completion and dished out five touchdown passes. On the ground, he led the Flames in rushing with 66 yards, adding one additional touchdown in the four-touchdown decision.

Another factor which strongly favored the visiting Flames was turnovers. Liberty entered the contest as the FBS leader in takeaways, interceptions, and turnover margin, and those trends sustained through Week 3 of the 2023 season. The Flames won the turnover battle, 2-0, as Tyren Dupree secured a pair of interceptions (one off a deflection) which were cashed in for 10 points. After three games, Liberty now leads commandingly leads the country in passes intercepted with nine on the year.

The Flames stormed out to a 24-0 with a series of explosive touchdowns. Salter delivered a 56-yard strike to Treon Sibley in the first quarter and then followed it up with a 42-yard dime to Elijah Smoot. The quarterback later connected on two additional long-distance scores, hitting Smoot again for 33 yards and CJ Daniels for 75 yards in the third quarter. Aaron Bedgood accounted for the final explosive touchdown, putting the icing on the cake with a 49-yard scamper in the fourth quarter.

In the midst of that explosive playmaking was a semblance of a Buffalo comeback, primarily guided by the aerial attack. Quarterback Cole Snyder delivered four touchdown passes in the loss, playing catch-up mode with Liberty’s offense throughout the entire afternoon. The 24-0 shoutout was broken by Duke transfer wide receiver Darrell Harding Jr., who made a spectacular one-handed grab in the end zone. Nik McMillan later completed a 33-yard catch-and-run, Ron Cook Jr. hit paydirt on a screen, and Marlyn Johnson corralled a short-yardage score, but not a single one of Snyder’s hat trick of touchdowns trimmed the deficit below 10 points.

Prior to kickoff Saturday, Liberty’s defense yielded the second-highest rushing average in college football at 6.6 yards per carry. But the Flames bucked that trend and stifled Buffalo’s ground game to 2.9 yards per rush in the decisive victory. Sacks didn’t factor significantly into this average; Liberty merely stuffed the run game at the line of scrimmage, to the tune of eight tackles for loss.

The inability to establish a run led Buffalo to plenty of long-range third down opportunities. The Bulls fared 5-of-18 in such situations and also turned the ball over on downs three times during the second half comeback effort.

Liberty, after blowing past two MAC teams en route to a 3-0 record, continues its favorable schedule with a CUSA matchup next Saturday against FIU. While the Flames remain hot, Buffalo hopes to find some footing. The Bulls overcame an 0-3 start in 2022, and they’ll have one last opportunity to notch a non-conference win at Louisiana next Saturday before MAC play commences Sept. 30.