LendingTree Bowl Preview

LendingTree Bowl Preview

Both teams come into the game with a record of 7-5. Only one can get their eighth win of the season as these two Group of Five teams meet for the first time this season.  Those two teams are the Liberty Flames led by head coach Hugh Freeze and the Eastern Michigan Eagles led by coach Chris Creighton who Brought the Eagles their first winning season since 2018.  This is the 23rd edition of the LendingTree Bowl in Alabama. Both teams have the chance to end their seasons with a big time win. We have our LendingTree Bowl preview.

Liberty

Starting out with the Flames of Liberty, they finished their regular season campaign with a record of 7-5. They had wins against Troy (21-13), Campbell (48-7), UAB (36-12), North Texas (35-26), and UMass (62-17). There were close games against two power five teams in Syracuse, losing 24 to 21, and Ole Miss, losing 27 to 14. Freeze has already led this program to two bowl victories. They got an upset win against at the time 12th Costal Carolina 37-34 and in 2019 against the Georgia Southern Eagles, 23 to 16.  That was also the third time a team has won a bowl game in their FBS debut.  The second half of the season was a struggle for the Flames. But a win here on Saturday can put expectations higher for a 2022 bounce back season.

The biggest part is that this will be the last game for their talented quarterback Malik Willis, the former Auburn transfer. Willis, unlike other NFL first round prospects in Kenneth Walker III or Kenny Pickett is going to play on Saturday.  Willis has shown incredible arm strength in his career at Liberty, throwing for 4,876 yards and in 2021, was just 400 yards from 3,000, finishing with 2,626 yards, 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.  Some may say its a step down looking at the interceptions. But in passing yardage wise it’s a step up even with a slight drop in completion percentage.  Look for Willis to end off his legacy at Liberty  with a big performance.

One thing that Liberty will need to overcome in this game however are the turnovers.  If they can keep it a clean game with no interceptions or fumbles, look for the Flames to catch fire early on.  The receiving core is a must watch too with Demario Douglas and CJ Daniels.

Eastern Michigan

Meanwhile on the Eagles side, they finished the regular season with a winning record, the first in three seasons.  Even with that however, the team still finished second to last in the Mid-American West because of how no one finished with a losing record.  The Eagles are led by senior Ben Bryant who had just under a 3,000 yard performance this season with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions.  The rushing game meanwhile has had all three backs get a good amount of playing time from Jawon Hamilton, the former UCF and James Madison transfer with 631 yards and four touchdowns, Darius Boone Jr with 400 yards and six touchdowns and finally Samson Evans with 12 rushing touchdowns.  The leading receiver meanwhile is Hassan Beydoun with nearly 1,000 yards (932) and four touchdowns.

The downside to this however, is the defensive side where Eastern Michigan has had some good talent this season in Tariq Speights and three and a half sacks in Turan Rush. But the team is still around the bottom in that position, giving up 27.8 points.  The Eagles wins this season have been against St. Francis PA (35-15), UMass (42-28), Texas State (59-21), Miami (OH) (13-12), Bowling Green (55-24), Toledo (52-49), and Western Michigan (22-21).  A few tough losses were against Ohio, Central Michigan, Ball State, Northern Illinois. They also played Wisconsin but got beat decisively.

This Eagles team under coach Creighton has a good number of talent, but to win this game, you can’t be turning the ball over 13 times, you instead will have to be the one who gets the turnovers and then rely on your passing game by Bryant, who can get you the victory.

Last Meeting

This was not the first time these teams have met before.  Back in 1989, these two teams met in one of the most memorable games in all of college football, with the Liberty Flames winning by a Eric Green touchdown reception making the final 25-24. Green was the only first round draft pick out of Liberty University. Could we see something on the lines of that once again?  Only time will tell between these two programs and this time. It’s not a game just on a schedule, it’s a game for the LendingTree trophy.

Kickoff is Saturday December 18th with an exact 5:45pm start time.  Both teams will finish over .500, but which one will get that eighth win in the end?