CSJ 2021 Bahamas Bowl Preview: Toledo vs. Middle Tennessee

TOLEDO vs. MIDDLE TENNESSEE
WHEN: FRIDAY, DECEMBER 17, 12:00 PM EST
WHERE: THOMAS A. ROBISON NATIONAL STADIUM; NASSAU, BAHAMAS
TV/STREAMING: ESPN, WATCHESPN

The first college bowl game of the holiday season gets under way away from the United States. The lone bowl game to be played outside of the USA is this Bahamas Bowl. This game pits Toledo out of the Mid-American Conference (MAC) versus Middle Tennessee, out of Conference USA in the seventh game on the island nation (the 2020 Bahamas Bowl was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Toledo finished its 2021 campaign hot, winning three straight games to qualify for a bowl. The Rockets finished third in the MAC West, and had impressive performances this season including almost defeating Notre Dame, eventually falling 32-29.

Middle Tennessee won its last game of the season, defeating Florida Atlanta 27-17 to qualify for a bowl game with a 6-6 record. The Blue Raiders finished in fourth place in the C-USA East.

This is the first time these two schools will meet on the grid iron.

Since turning FBS in 1999, the Blue Raiders are 3-4 vs the MAC, while the Rockets are 24-23-1 all-time against current C-USA squads.

For the second time in four seasons, the Rockets are headed to the Bahamas–also went in the 2018 season losing to Florida International. Toledo will be playing in their 19th bowl game in program history and their sixth in the last eight seasons. MT is making its 13th bowl bid (9th in FBS era) with its last bowl game coming in 2017. Toledo missed a bowl last season in the COVID-19 narrowed season but last played a bowl in 2019. The Blue Raiders are also making their second appearance in the Bahamas–lost to Western Michigan in 2015.

Entering the 2021 Bahamas Bowl, both teams rank first nationally in at least one category. For the Blue Raiders, their 31 takeaways top all FBS teams. For the Rockets, their six turnovers, two interceptions and four lost fumbles, are the fewest lost by any team at the FBS level. Below is a look at how the two teams match-up in other statistics.

Season Stats

ToledoStatsMiddle Tennessee
34.2Avg. Points Scored29.8
21.0Avg. Points Allowed25.8
435.8Avg. Total Yards355.9
342.3Avg. Total Yards Allowed367.4
5Giveaways20
17Takeaways31

TOLEDO ROCKETS (3RD MAC WEST, 7-5 OVERALL, 5-3 MAC)

LOCATION: TOLEDO, OHIO

HEAD COACH: JASON CANDLE (6TH SEASON, 45-26 AT TOLEDO & OVERALL)

Toledo defeated two bowl-eligible teams in Western Michigan and Ball State. Their only loss to a team that did not qualify for a bowl game came against Colorado State. The Rockets are hot right now, riding a three-game winning streak into bowl season.

Toledo’s offense is solid, scoring 34.2 points per game, which ranks 25th in the country. They rush for 129.9 yards (ranked 33rd) and pass for 241.3 yards (ranked 58th) per game.

About the half way point of the season, Toledo turned the offense over to freshman Dequan Finn. Finn has impressed with 1,855 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and one interception on 59.7 percent completion. He has six pass-catchers who have over 200 yards on the season. His top receiver is Devin Maddox, who has 38 catches for 562 yards and four touchdowns. Isaiah Winstead has also been highly-productive with 34 receptions for 489 yards and one touchdown.

On the ground, Bryant Koback has led the team with 190 carries for 1,274 yards and 15 touchdowns(10th in the country). Finn has chipped in from the quarterback position with 418 yards and eight touchdowns. Micah Kelly and Jacquez Stuart both have carried the ball well in relief at over 5.2 yards per carry.

The defense has been solid this season, allowing 21 points per game, which is good enough for 27th in the country. Toledo allows 150.8 rushing yards (ranked 67th) and 191.8 passing yards (ranked 17th) per game. Linebacker Jonathan Jones and Jamal Hines, along with safety Maxen Hook all have over 80 tackles on the season. Defensive end Desjuan Johnson leads the team with 4.5 sacks.

Key Player: Dequan Finn

Finn while listed as a freshman, just completed his third regular season for Toledo as he had a redshirt and a COVID-19 season to keep this status. He has started the last six games and used both his arm and legs in winning four of his six starts. In the two games the Rockets lost, were an overtime loss and a loss by a field goal so he has proven he can keep the Rockets in games. He will need to hold onto the ball and not make bad throws against the very opportunistic MT defense. If he can avoid the turnover bug, he should lead his team to a victory in this one.

MIDDLE TENNESSEE BLUE RAIDERS (4TH CUSA , 6-6 OVERALL, 4-4 CUSA)

LOCATION: MURFREESBORO, TENN.

HEAD COACH: RICK STOCKSTILL (16TH SEASON, 100-98 AT MT & OVERALL)

Middle Tennessee was able to defeat one bowl-eligible team in Marshall to help them qualify and only lost to one team that did not make a bowl in Charlotte.

The offense can find the end zone a decent amount of times at 29.4 points per game, which ranks 55th in the country. The Blue Raiders rush for 120.8 yards per game (ranked 107th) and pass for 235.5 yards per game (ranked 65th).

Middle Tennessee is likely to start their third string QB, Nick Vattiato. Their first string, Chase Cunningham, is injured and their second string, Bailey Hockman, left the team. Vattiato has thrown five touchdowns and six interceptions this season, and is averaging only 5.7 yards per pass attempt. Nick Vattiato has been starting recently. The freshman has passed for 776 yards, five touchdowns and six interceptions on 67.4 percent completion. Middle Tennessee has four receivers with at least 400 receiving yards on the season. Jimmy Marshall leads the team in all major categories with 45 catches for 510 yards and six touchdowns.

Three running backs have produced more than 200 yards on the ground for the Blue Raiders this season. Martell Pettaway leads the team with 74 carries for 359 yards and three touchdowns. Chaton Mobley and Frank Peasant have provided good changes of pace for Pettaway with 241 and 239 rushing yards respectively.

The defense allows 25.8 points per game, ranking 63rd in the country. They give up 128.2 rushing yards (ranked 63rd) and 238.6 passing yards (ranked 86th) per game. Safety Reed Blankenship has been a star with a team-lead of 106 tackles, eight passes defended and one interception. Jordan Ferguson leads the team with seven sacks with DQ Thomas not far behind him with five.

Key Player: QB Nick Vattiato

Vattiato has been starting recently. The freshman has passed for 776 yards, five touchdowns and six interceptions on 67.4 percent completion. Expect the Toledo defense to apply the pressure on him to see if he can handle it. If he can do this, the Blue Raiders will have a chance in this one.

Fearless Prediction:

Turnovers are a big key to both teams success this season and that should be no different in this game itself. With the Blue Raiders playing with their third string quarterback though, I think the Rockets are the stronger team and will get this first bowl game of the season in a game that is fairly tight until the Rockets put the game away in the fourth quarter. Toledo 38 Middle Tennessee 28

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