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2021 LendingTree Bowl: Eastern Michigan vs Liberty — Three Questions

Eastern Michigan and Liberty are set to square off in 2021’s edition of the LendingTree bowl.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 06 Lendingtree Bowl - Louisiana v Miami OH Photo by Bobby McDuffie/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Another college football regular season has come and gone, leaving us with memories of what was and what could have been for various programs across the nation.

For a lucky 88 teams, the year will be capped off with at least one more contest as bowl season is upon us. The 23rd edition of the LendingTree Bowl features one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Liberty’s Malik Willis, who will lead the Flames against an Eastern Michigan program playing in their third bowl game in four seasons.

Hugh Freeze has taken the Flames’ program to new heights since arriving in 2019 — in large part due to the play of the aforementioned Willis. Chris Creighton’s Eastern Michigan club are enjoying a stretch of success, having gone 34-35 over the past five seasons after just three wins in Creighton’s first two years on the job.

According to DraftKings, Liberty is an eight-point favorite with the over/under set at 63.5 points.*

*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.


Can EMU slow Willis?

While this year’s crop of quarterbacks entering the NFL Draft aren’t as highly-touted as 2020’s list that saw several big-time names, Liberty’s Malik Willis is a player worth watching — especially if you haven’t had the opportunity to see him before. After starting his career at Auburn, Willis has been one of the most electric players in the nation in his two seasons with the Flames.

The 6-1, 215-pounder has flourished in Hugh Freeze’s RPO system, throwing for over 4,800 yards and rushing for nearly 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. Chris Creighton’s club has faced some potent offenses en route to a 7-5 record, but Willis is a player who has the talent to be a potential top pick in the upcoming draft.

Which Willis will show up?

As dynamic as Willis has been over the past two seasons, his play in 2021 has taken a slight dip — in large part due to the amount of the load Willis has to shoulder. He’s thrown twice as many interceptions as he did last year while seeing his completion percentage drop by three percent. He’s thrown multiple interceptions in four games this year, including three that saw him throw three. For Eastern Michigan, finding a way to force the ultra-talented quarterback into making mistakes will play a large part in whether or not they can get the victory.

Does Eastern Michigan have enough offense?

Eastern Michigan was among the top teams in the MAC in scoring, averaging 31 points per game in 2021. Quarterback Ben Bryant drives the Eagles’ offense, throwing for 2,921 yards and 14 touchdowns with only six interceptions on the year.

While EMU’s run game isn’t going to wow many teams, it’s been efficient when needed and they have scored 25 times on the ground, led by short-yardage back Samson Evans, who has 12 touchdowns. The Eagles balanced attack will have to continue their play from the regular season in an effort to keep the fast-paced Flames offense on the sidelines.