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2021 LendingTree Bowl Preview: Liberty Flames vs. Eastern Michigan Eagles

The Eagles travel to Alabama to take on the Flames of Liberty, seeking an elusive bowl victory.

Eastern Michigan will have to be on top of their game
Kenneth Bailey

The LendingTree Bowl features two 7-5 teams in the form of the independent Liberty Flames and the familiar Eastern Michigan Eagles. This will be the fourth bowl appearance in six years for the Eagles, and the third bowl appearance in a row for Liberty. Eastern Michigan will be looking for their first bowl win since 1987 when they beat Fresno State in the California Bowl. Liberty will be looking for their third bowl win in a row.

Both teams are pretty evenly matched in terms of points scored per game. The Flames have averaged 31.8 points per game, while the Eagles have averaged 31 points per game. It is in both teams’ scoring defense where the two separate. The Eagles have given up an average 27.8 points per game, while the Flames have given up an average of 21.7 points per game. The Flames also possess the better rushing attack, averaging 176 yards per game on the ground to the Eagles average 118 yards per game.

The Liberty Flames are led by NFL prospect Malik Willis. The Liberty QB has gone 194 for 315 for an average of 218 yards per game through the air, throwing for 24 touchdowns and has thrown 12 interceptions. Malik Willis also happens to be the Flames’ rushing leader and averages 68.3 yards on the ground, running for 11 touchdowns. Stopping him will be a crucial part of the Eagles’ defensive efforts.

His counterpart on the Eagles is Ben Bryant who has gone 194 for 372. He has 14 touchdown throws and only six interceptions. The Eagles rushing leader in their rotational committee is James Madison and UCF transfer Jawon Hamiliton, who averages 57.4 yards per game and a total of four touchdowns. The Flames leading receiver is Demario Douglas and he has averaged 61.7 yards. The Eagles have two main targets in the form of Hassan Beydoun and Tanner Knue, with both averaging over 70 yards per game.

While the Flames are pretty strong on defense, their turnover margin leaves a lot to be desired, having given up the ball 21 times versus getting the ball 10 times. They have also allowed 50 sacks on the season. Eastern Michigan has caused 16 turnovers versus committing 13 of their own for a much narrower ratio, while only giving up 38 sacks this season.

As it stands right now, Liberty is favored, but I think if the Eagles can play their normal offense and improve on defense, they will have a chance so long as they force a lot of defensive pressure on a turnover-prone Liberty offense.

I just hope this doesn’t end up like the last time the two teams played, where Eastern lost to Liberty at the last minute.

NCAA Football: Liberty at Mississippi
Malik Willis in a game against Mississippi.
Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports