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LendingTree Bowl Final: EMU outmatched by Liberty, 56-20
Eastern Michigan lost 56-20 to Liberty in the LendingTree Bowl, ending the year with a 7-6 overall record.
Welcome to The Ypsilanti Eleven! Eastern Michigan finishes the 2021 season with a 7-6 overall record after today’s 56-20 bowl loss to Liberty. The scoreboard says it all: simply not a good enough effort out of EMU for this game to be competitive.
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Liberty 56, Eastern Michigan 20
Malik Willis’ 5 total TD too much for EMU defense
Liberty’s star quarterback Malik Willis had a great night as he picked apart Eastern Michigan’s defense for five total touchdowns — three throwing, two rushing — en route a 56-20 victory in today’s LendingTree Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
With the loss, Eastern Michigan finishes the season with a 7-6 overall record while Liberty ends the year 8-5.
To begin the game, Eastern was able to get strong rushing efforts from Darius Boone and Samson Evans. They helped drive all the way to Liberty’s 4-yard line, and found itself in a 4th & 2 situation. Chris Creighton burned his first timeout to talk things over with his offense, but a false start by Gunnar Oakes backed the Eagles up five yards, and his team settled for field goal from Chad Ryland (27-yards) to go up 3-0.
After an exchange of punts, Liberty took control of the game and never looked back.
Liberty QB Malik Willis threw a deep, 54-yard bomb to D.J. Stubbs for an easy score and took the lead 7-3 with 3:08 left in the first quarter. Then things got really bloody for Eastern on the ensuing offensive drive. Liberty safety Skyler Thomas blitzed in and swatted Ben Bryant’s pass into the air, then came away with the batted ball and scored on the 36-yard pick six.
To respond, EMU scored on a EMU’s Samson Evans scored his 13th rushing TD of the year to make it 13-10. Unfortunately for Eastern, that’d be the team’s last score of the half while it watched the Flames keep scoring for the rest of the half.
As the nation’s least-penalized team, EMU uncharacteristically made things easy for Liberty with defensive penalty after defensive penalty. Two straight defensive pass interferences on Kempton Shine and David Carter Jr. opened an opportunity for Liberty running back T.J. Green to score on a 34-yard run. Liberty followed that up with a 12-play, 88-yard drive that only took 3:32 off the clock, and ended with a 20-yard TD pass from Willis.
On the next Liberty drive, the Flames were gifted a new set of downs after Turan Rush was penalized for roughing the passer on a third down play near the goal line, and QB Willis capitalized with a 2-yard TD run.
The Flames missed a couple of PAT kicks along the way, but it still had a substantial 33-10 lead at the half.
Willis, unable to find an open receiver on a play-action pass call, meandered around as EMU’s defense failed to get a body on him, and the QB scored a 35-yard touchdown run. The PAT try failed for a third time, but it wasn’t a missed kick this time: the ball was wet, and the holder muffed the snap. The kicker, Brayden Beck, would later kick a 43-yard field goal to get three more points on the board. Touchdown pass #3 for Willis came at the end of the third quarter, to Demario Douglas from three yards out and made it a 49-10 game.
After both teams put their second-string units on the field (and Liberty’s back up QB threw a 64-yard TD pass), Ryland made a 42-yard field goal with 5:26 left in the game — EMU’s first score of the second half.
Too little too late, but a score’s a score. With under five minutes left in the game, EMU defensive back Jeff Hubbard caught a pass that went off a Liberty player’s hands, and got a 34-yard score to cut into Liberty’s huge lead. That would be the last major bit of action as Liberty would hang on to win the bowl game.
What happened to EMU offense?
EMU knew that a shootout would be likely, and it’d have put some points on the board to have a shot against Liberty, which averaged 31.8 points per game coming into the bowl game. Instead of playing up to the weight class, Eastern’s offense failed to finish its drives with enough scores: 4 punts, 3 turnovers on downs, 2 field goals, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception.
Inconsistency was the theme of EMU’s offense for large chunks of the year, and this year’s bowl game put that issue on a national stage. EMU would, for instance, get a one-yard pass completion to Dylan Summers on 2nd & 10, then let Bryant get sacked for a 10-yard loss on third down to end up punting the ball away.
Eastern ended up finding itself in 17 third-down situations on the day, and converted on just six of them. On fourth downs, EMU was 1/4.
EMU total plays-yards: 83-379 (4.57)
Liberty total plays-yards: 61-528 (8.66)
EMU team passing: 28/44, 254 yards, 1 INT
Ben Bryant: 23/36 (63.9%), 200 yards, 1 INT, sacked 2 times
Preston Hutchinson: 5/8 (62.5%), 54 yards, sacked 1 time
Liberty team passing: 14/26, 295 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT
Malik Willis: 13/24 (54.2%), 231 yards, 3 TD, sacked 1 time
EMU receiving: 8 total receivers, 3 with four or more receptions
Hassan Beydoun: 11 rec., 83 yards
Dylan Drummond: 6 rec., 51 yards
Tanner Knue: 4 rec., 35 yards
TE Bryson Cannon: 2 rec., 21 yards
Zach Westmoreland: 1 rec., 21 yards
Dylan Summers: 2 rec., 16 yards
TE Thomas Odukoya: 1 rec., 15 yards
RB Darius Boone: 1 rec., 5 yards
Liberty receiving: 8 total receivers, four with TDs
Kevin Shaa: 3 rec., 94 yards, 1 TD
D.J. Stubbs: 2 rec. 69 yards, 1 TD
Demario Douglas: 3 rec., 22 yards, 1 TD
TE Johnny Huntley: 1 rec., 20 yards, 1 TD
EMU team rushing: 39 att., 125 yards (3.2 avg.), 1 TD
Samson Evans: 13 att., 52 yards (4.0), 1 TD
Darius Boone: 12 att., 51 yards (4.3)
Bryson Moss: 3 att., 14 yards (4.7)
QB Preston Hutchinson: 5 att., 13 yards (2.6)
D.J. Smith: 2 att., 12 yards (6.0)
QB Ben Bryant: 4 att., -17 yards (-4.3)
Liberty team rushing: 35 att., 233 yards (6.7 avg.), 3 TD
T.J. Green: 8 att., 88 yards (11.0), 1 TD
Shedro Louis: 11 att., 72 yards (6.5)
Eastern Michigan honored Oxford High School
Eastern Michigan’s gesture to honor the victims and those still affected by the shooting at Oxford High School on Nov. 30, the Eagles wore an Oxford Strong sticker on their helmets, and Oxford alum and EMU freshman Carter Gilbert carried the Oxford flag onto the field before the game.
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