Kaidon Salter-led Liberty Flames Bring the Heat to Florida in CUSA Win Over FIU

Liberty hadn't played a regular season game in Florida since 2002. Quarterback Kaidon Salter made sure they brought the heat in a win over FlU.

The Liberty Flames hadn’t played a regular season game in Florida for over 20 years prior to Saturday. After Jamey Chadwell’s team brought the heat to the sunshine state, the FIU Panthers probably wish they still hadn’t. Kaidon Salter led the CUSA newcomers to their second conference win of the college football season, dominating FIU 38-6 in a one-sided affair.

Kaidon Salter Leads the Liberty Flames to Win Over FIU

It might have lacked the gaudy numbers that led to multiple national accolades in Week 3, but Salter was once again the spark plug for the Liberty offense. The Flames quarterback torched the FIU defense through the air and on the ground, earning the praise heaped on the redshirt-sophomore quarterback by his head coach in the run up to the 38-6 win.

“His arm is elite,” head coach Chadwell said of the Liberty quarterback win the wake of their Week 3 win over Buffalo. “This is probably the first time we’ve been around somebody in a while that has that type of arm strength.”

Having guided Grayson McCall to an unprecedented three consecutive Sun Belt Player of the Year Awards, Chadwell knows a thing or two about game-changing quarterbacks. Having won a pre-season quarterback battle against incumbent starter Johnathan Bennett, it’s fair to say that he’s found a new star to operate his innovative offense in Salter.

“The first three weeks, every week, he has gotten better and better with what we’re asking him to do, and he’s playing with a lot of confidence,” Chadwell had said in his game week media availability. “Anytime you get your quarterback to play with a lot of convince, it’s a good thing.”

From early in a dominant win over FIU, it the confidence that Chadwell referenced in the week was evident.

Salter threaded the needle to hit tight end Bentley Hanshaw in stride at the back of the end zone to give Liberty an early lead over their CUSA foe. Both teams entered the game with three wins, but it quickly became clear that not all three-win résumés are built the same.

Salter extended the Liberty lead to 14 points less than three minutes later, hitting Treon Sibley just beyond the Flames’ 40-yard line. The senior wide receiver made a man miss, evaded a lunging last-ditch tackle, and took the ball to the house for a 68-yard touchdown.

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There had been a sense of excited expectation about this all-CUSA clash coming into the game, and for a brief moment late in the first quarter, FIU quarterback Keyone Jenkins reminded us why, punching it in for a one-yard score to bring the Panthers back with one score.

However, it proved to be more fools gold than Golden Panthers as the FIU offense struggled against an imposing Liberty defensive effort.

Jenkins was constantly rendered powerless behind an offensive line that was missing CFN preseason all-Conference USA linemen John Bock and Jacob Peace. Their absence was notable as Liberty dominated defensively. The Flames ended the night with 11 tackles for loss and five sacks, led by Tyren Dupree with nine tackles, two tackles for loss, and one sack.

Although Salter’s aerial efforts helped power the Flames early offensive wins, Liberty asserted their will on FIU throughout the game on the ground. A Billy Lucas touchdown run gave Liberty a 21-6 lead late in Q2, as the Flames running back paused patiently to allow center Jordan White to prise open a lane before bursting through and heading to the corner of the end zone.

The former Duquesne rusher was one of two Liberty running backs to tally 100 yards in the game — fellow transfer Quinton Cooley rushed for 102 yards — surpassing 2,000 rushing yards for his career.

In a game of standout achievements, Salter moved past 2,000 career passing yards, finishing the game with 156 passing yards and two passing touchdowns. Showcasing his dual-threat ability, the Liberty quarterback extended the Flames lead with his legs in the second half, breaking the plane with two-yard and one-yard touchdown runs, tallying 77 rushing yards on two carries.

As his quarterback plays with confidence and delivers results, Liberty head coach Chadwell leads his team out of Week 4 with a standout accomplishment of his own. With the win, he is one of just two head coaches who have yet to lose since being appointed to a new program for the 2023 college football season.

After despatching FIU to move to 4-0 on the season, Liberty has a bye week before a midweek home clash with fellow CUSA newcomer Sam Houston. Meanwhile, the Golden Panthers have a bye week to recover and rebound before facing New Mexico State in Las Cruces on Oct. 4.