- Time and Date: Tuesday, December 20, at 7:30 P.M.
- Network: ESPN
- Location: Howard Schnellenberger Field at FAU Stadium, in Boca Raton, Florida
- Weather: Scattered showers, 67 degrees, winds E at 10 to 15 mph, chance of rain 60%, per Weather.com
- Line: Toledo -4.5, Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details)
- All-time bowl record is 10-9
- Last bowl: 2021 Bahamas Bowl, a 31-24 loss to Middle Tennessee State
- All-time bowl record is 3-0
- Last bowl: 2021 LendingTree Bowl, a 56-20 win over Eastern Michigan
Toledo (8-5, 5-3 Mid-American Conference) comes into this game after winning the MAC Championship following a disappointing two-game skid. Liberty (8-4) also makes the trip following a three-game losing streak in its final year of Independence before joining Conference USA in 2023.
The Rockets started off the year with a pair of big wins over Long Island (37-0) and UMASS (55-10) before running into Ohio State. Aside from that game, Toledo was in every game and had its chances to get to 11 wins, ultimately losing four games by one score.
As was the case in 2021, the 2022 Rockets experienced plenty of heartbreak in those losses. They allowed late game-winning scores against San Diego State (41 seconds to go) and rival Bowling Green (nine seconds). Against Buffalo, Toledo squandered a 17-point lead heading into the 4th. Against Western Michigan, it all went wrong.
Nevertheless, Toledo won five games in the MAC, locked up the MAC West with two weeks to spare, and defeated a red-hot Ohio Bobcats team to win the program’s first MAC title since 2017.
On the other hand, the Flames started off its season on fire. Liberty rattled off eight wins in the first nine games of 2022 after having to replace star quarterback. Malik Willis. Even then, that one loss was by one point to ACC foe, Wake Forest.
After a dominating win over BYU and a close win over the SEC’s Arkansas, the wheels fell off. Liberty dropped its final three games to UCONN, Virginia Tech, and New Mexico State. Even then, it was impressive how the team kept it together considering the QB position was decimated by injuries. Charlie Brewer, Kaidon Salter, and Johnathan Bennett played significant time under center and the latter two each played in those three losses.
When Toledo Has The Ball
This Toledo offense is built around running the ball and then hitting a big play over the top as defenses get sucked in. It features a trio of running backs as well as a dynamic quarterback who is a home run threat on each and every play. If Toledo can play to the level of talent that it has, its offense can be lethal.
There are 11 FBS teams who can say they have three players who have run the ball 100+ times; Toledo is the only FBS team with FOUR.
Leading the way with 113 carries, 608 yards, and eight touchdowns is sophomore QB, Dequan Finn. Finn is the heart of this Toledo offense and it was apparent when he missed time for his ankle injury. He’s not too bad at throwing the ball either, passing for 2,127 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Of late, the bellcow has been Micah Kelly and his 113 rushes for 376 yards and one touchdown. He’s out carried his RB peers in the past three games 50 to a combined 40. The most explosive member of the RB room has been Jacquez Stuart. He’s the lone back with a 100-yard game this year with his pair of performances against Central Michigan and Buffalo. Stuart leads the way with 659 yards and four touchdowns.
Between the three RBs and Finn, Stuart is the most explosive with 5.9 yards per carry on the year.
The third head in the three-headed rushing attack is Maryland transfer, Peny Boone. Boone is more of a bruising back at 6’1”, 245 pounds. He ran the ball for Toledo 110 tmes for 418 yards and three touchdowns this year.
On the outside, the Rockets are led by 2nd Team All-MAC receiver, Jerjuan Newton. With the transfers of Isaiah Winstead and Matt Landers, someone had to step up and Newton did so. He broke out for 788 yards and nine touchdowns off of 48 receptions. His number two posted a near identical season this year as last year. Devin Maddox added 536 yards and five touchdowns this year.
They’ll have to contend with a Liberty defense with playmakers all over the field. It all starts with 2nd Team All-American, Durrell Johnson. The senior defensive end terrorized defenses this year and Toledo will have to utilize 1st Team All-MAC tackle Nick Rosi to eliminate Johnson’s effect. He committed to playing in this game and will try to add onto his 8.0 sacks and 22.5 TFLs.
In addition to Johnson, Liberty has Dennis Osagiede (6.0 sacks, 12.5 TFLs) and Kendy Charles (5.5 sacks, 10.0 TFLs). Toledo is going to look to get the game going on the ground yet again. Against this Liberty team, they may have success considering how poorly the Flames have defended of late. On the year, Liberty allowed 144 yards per game. Over the last three games, however, they’ve allowed 599 yards (nearly 200 per game) and 10 touchdowns on the ground.
Toledo likes to try and take the top off of the defense. Safety Robert Rahimi will have something to say about that as he has hauled in five interceptions thus far this year.
When Liberty Has The Ball
The strength of this Toledo team is its defense. It will be tested in this one, regardless of who the quarterback will be. Liberty released its official depth chart and it provided absolutely no clarity on the situation.
The Rockets will be preparing for the likes of Jonathan Bennett, Kaidon Salters, and/or Charlie Brewer. Down the stretch, Bennett and Salters both played significant snaps with Salters leading the way. In 11 games, Bennett threw for 1,534 yards and 12 touchdowns with nine interceptions. Salters, in seven games, threw for 1,004 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions.
Between the four players who attempted a pass for Liberty, there were 217 completions. 73 of those completions were to star fourth-year sophomore receiver, Demario Douglas. Douglas has a decision to make but its going to be after this game, so he’s going to add to his 977 yards and six touchdowns.
On the ground, the Flames were led by Dae Dae Hunter. Due to a season-ending injury he sustained in the win over Arkansas. Taking over duties from the Hawai’i transfer was Shedro Luis and TJ Green.
In games against non-Ohio State teams, Toledo allowed just 22.5 points per game which would have been good for 35th in FBS. As is the case for Liberty’s defense, there are playmakers all over the field for Toledo.
The Rockets led the MAC with seven 1st and 2nd-team All-MAC selections, led by AP 3rd-Team All-American, Quinyon Mitchell. Mitchell, a third-year sophomore corner, had the game of his life against Northern Illinois where he pulled down four interceptions and returned two for touchdowns.
The front seven has been a force all year, led by Desjuan Johnson and Ohio State transfer, Dallas Gant. Johnson accounted for 5.5 sacks and 15.5 TFLs this year and has been on a tear of late. He recorded 10 TFLs, 4.0 sacks, and an interception in his last six games. Gant led the Rockets defense with 103 tackles, 5.5 for loss, and forced two fumbles on the year.
On the back end, safety Maxen Hook rounds out the quartet of 1st-Team All-MAC selections on the defense. Hook added 67 tackles and a pair of interceptions on the year.
Toledo allows 331 yards per game, Liberty averages just over 400.
The MAC Champions are favored in this one by 4.5 points in what looks to be an even matchup. Toledo has shown that its offense can score and its defense can hold most offenses to a respectable number.
Liberty has a strong offense with a legitimate star receiver. However, the program is in flux.
It’s looking like the Toledo squad that will suit up in Boca Raton will be virtually unchanged from this year and its MAC Championship, a feat that some other MAC teams could not relate to.
Given the best of both teams, Toledo should be able to get the better of Liberty, but not cover. Rockets win, 33-30.