Eastern Michigan vs. Liberty LendingTree Bowl Picks and Odds Analysis

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Head coach Hugh Freeze of the Liberty Flames. Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images/AFP.

Eastern Michigan and Liberty clash in an early bowl game. Here is betting advice for the contest. Top sportsbooks have released their NCAAF odds for the upcoming bowl game between Eastern Michigan and Liberty. While Eastern Michigan required a few close calls to secure bowl eligibility, it finished the regular season 7-5.

Liberty is also 7-5 but limped through the last part of its regular season. While losing to Ole Miss is quite understandable, being blown out at home by Louisiana-Lafayette and losing by 15 at home to Army is inexcusable. For reasons that I will explain, you should play the total for this game.

Eastern Michigan Eagles vs. Liberty Flames

Saturday, December 18, 2021 – 5:45 PM EST at Hancock Whitney Stadium

Eastern Michigan’s Dependence on Passing

Passing is uniquely important to the Eastern Michigan offense. The Eagles own the nation's 21st-highest pass-play percentage. They are led by quarterback Ben Bryant whose success -- or lack thereof -- is decisive for the offense's success.

In all of Eastern Michigan's losses but one, Bryant threw as many or more interceptions as he did touchdowns. Likewise, his least productive games -- as measured by passing yards -- have tended to coincide with his offense's lowest-scoring outputs.

Of the handful of Eagle running backs who have accumulated a double-digit number of carries this season, one average over four YPC: Jawon Hamilton. Eastern Michigan's emphasis on passing is further evident in the rarity with which Hamilton gets 10 or more carries in a single game despite his strong YPC.

Hamilton's rushing numbers, however, are as great as they are large because of two games. He achieved one massive gain against Western Michigan that helped him amass a significant rushing total in that game. Western Michigan, by the way, ranks about 80 spots behind Liberty in limiting the opponent's YPC. He also dominated against 1-11 UMass.

His small role in the offense, the rarity with which he exceeds 50 yards in a game, and his lack of success against stronger defenses make him an unimportant factor in this bowl game.

Liberty's Pass Defense 

Because passing is so important to Eastern Michigan, the big question becomes: can Liberty's pass defense punish EMU for relying so heavily on its passing attack? The answer to this question is definitely "yes."

Know this stat for your sports betting: Liberty's pass defense ranks third nationally, as measured by its ability to limit the opponent's passing yards per game. This team has a nice pass defense because it is deep and well-built with quality at the cornerback position.

Chris Megginson is one Flame cornerback worth relying on. He has earned a reputation for being a shutdown cornerback, for locking down his side of the field on defense. His team's top cornerback, Megginson is praised for his combination of speed and instinct and his ability to match up with a variety of different wide receivers.

Duron Lowe is another positive factor in the position with his proven experience and skill set. At UTEP, he earned an All-Conference-USA Honorable Mention.

Liberty's Big Name 

Liberty's biggest name on offense is arguably quarterback Malik Willis, the former Auburn transfer. His poor play down the stretch helps explain the Flames' ongoing, three-game losing streak.

During these last three losses, Willis threw three touchdowns but six interceptions.
Moreover, he failed to exceed 2.6 YPC in any of those three games despite doing so in seven of his eight previous games.

12 interceptions are a lot for a quarterback to throw in a season. Yet Willis threw as many in the seven games he played in since October 9. While Willis is a big name, he also has a big interception problem that strongly attests to his depreciated quality of play.

This depreciated individual quality is clearly relevant to my "under" pick for this bowl game because, during Liberty's last three losses, the Flames mustered 14 points at Ole Miss, 16 versus Louisiana, and 16 versus Army.

While one will counter that these schools regularly allow fewer points per game than Eastern Michigan, the point is that they are allowing fewer points to Liberty than they do on average.

When the Flame offense on Saturday fails again to exceed the other team's opposing points per game average, then the "under" will hit because of how high the total is for this game. In other words, Eastern Michigan allows 29 points per game, and Liberty scoring well fewer than 29 will allow the "under" to easily hit.

It Comes Down to Willis 

Given Eastern Michigan's run defense stats, it seems clear that the Flames will try to run a lot. But there is no correspondence between strong Flame rushing numbers and Flame scoring. For example, they ran for 284 against Ole Miss but still mustered only 14 points.

Liberty's scoring success in this bowl game will come down to Willis' performance, yet Willis is repeatedly struggling in every key aspect of his game. To be fair, it's not all his fault. The Flames rank 127th in limiting the opponent's sack percentage.

Know for your best bets that he'll only be able to run for his life successfully so many times. Like just about every team, Eastern Michigan has, occasionally, allowed a big play on the ground to an opposing quarterback.

But the Eagles are regularly strong at limiting opposing quarterbacks on the ground. For example, Toledo's Dequan Finn and Northern Illinois' Rocky Lombardi have enjoyed massive rushing performances in individual games this season, but the Eagles permitted them negligible success on the ground.

The Verdict 

Liberty's top-level pass defense will limit Eastern Michigan's pass attack, which, in turn, will impede the Eagles from scoring many points.

On the other side, Malik Willis will continue struggling behind meager pass protection, as a result of his proneness to interceptions, and as a consequence of Eastern Michigan's comfort defending against mobile quarterbacks.

For the above reasons, take the "under" with your NCAAF picks.

NCAAF Pick: Under 59 ( -113) with BetOnline (visit our BetOnline Review)

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Under 59 (-113)
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*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.