As part of this unconventional Bahamas Bowl 2021 coverage, I decided to speak with some experts.
For Middle Tennessee, it won’t be an easy day as they enter this game ten-point underdogs to Toledo, per DraftKings.*
Former Toledo standout quarterback Bruce Gradkowski was unavailable for comment. but I did manage to connect with former Middle Tennessee running back Phillip Tanner about what he thinks the Blue Raiders need to do to lock down the Prime Minister’s Trophy.
*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.
How would you summarize Middle Tennessee’s season?
“The quarterback has been an issue for Middle Tennessee ever since Little Stock left, it’s been a struggle trying to solidify that position. And then trying to establish the run game. But I love how the defense is playing, the way they continue to help us be in the game.
Me and Stock talked last year during COVID and I asked him ‘When do you start getting out of Covid?’ And he was like ‘PT man, it may be 2-3 years before you are getting out of the effects of COVID – mentally, physically, the dynamics of how you go about recruiting and practice an all those things like that.’ We are still feeling those effects from COVID, whether its guys have to sit out, guys missing and things like that.
But I will say this season was an emotional rollercoaster, up and down games.”
What do the Blue Raiders need to do to win this game?
“The biggest thing for Middle is when we get these turnovers, we have to capitalize on them. We can’t get a turnover and then give the team back the ball, especially with a team like Toledo. We gotta get points. Bowl games are so tricky man because you get a month to prepare and that can go either way. It comes down to who can handle the bowl the best as far as the festivities and all those things because a football game still has to be played. So at times you get in bowl mood and its like a vacation for some of those guys but I’m sure Stock will have those guys locked in and ready to go.
The biggest thing for this game is to find a way to establish the run game; we’ve got to be able to manage the clock and move the ball by running the football.”
Alternatively, what does Toledo need to do to emerge victorious?
“I think from the offensive side, continue doing what they are doing and protecting the football and trying to stretch the field. If they can block our d-line, who has been playing lights out, and try to throw the football downfield that could possibly be challenging for us. Defensively, getting pressure on our quarterback and making him have to win the ball game.”
Destination Bowls seem like they can be a blessing and a curse. Thoughts?
“It’s definitely a nightmare for the ops team, especially with COVID. Now you gotta find vaccines, you gotta find passports, you gotta find original birth certificates for all these college kids. As a player, it’s phenomenal - to go to the Bahamas, it’s truly a great experience. But you gotta have that mental toughness, not just on the player’s side but the coaches as well. They still have to lock in, game plan and go win the ball game.
It’s a combination of a lot of different emotions - kind of like the season. I love it man, Stock being bowl eligible for the umpteenth time. But I think the next step though is starting to win these bowl games, not being satisfied with just getting there.”