NASSAU, Bahamas – Middle Tennessee and Toledo players have heard the “Something has to give” cliché all week long as the two teams prepare to play in the annual Bahamas Bowl on Friday (Noon kickoff, ESPN).
MTSU (6-6 overall, 4-4 in Conference USA) leads the nation when it comes to forcing and recovering turnovers. The Rockets (7-5, 5-3 in the MAC), meanwhile, may be the best among all FBS teams when it comes to protecting the football. Specifically, the Blue Raiders rank first among all FBS teams in turnovers gained (31) and fumbles recovered (15), and their turnover margin of +0.92 (31 gained/20 lost in 12 games) is sixth-best. Toledo leads the FBS in fewest turnovers – just six in 12 regular season games – and fewest interceptions thrown (2).
“If you get an opportunity to recover a ball or intercept a ball you have to take advantage of it because Toledo is really good at protecting the ball,” Middle Tennessee Head Coach Rick Stockstill said. “Your opportunities are going to be limited and we’ve got to do a good job of capitalizing on it.”
Nine different Blue Raiders combined for 16 interceptions this season, paced by cornerback Quincy Riley’s five picks. Senior safety Reed Blankenship led the team with three of MTSU’s 15 fumble recoveries. Conversely, Toledo quarterbacks threw just two interceptions on 351 pass attempts. The Rockets haven’t committed a turnover since November 2, which coincidentally was their last loss – a 52-49 setback versus Eastern Michigan.
“Middle Tennessee does a nice job of creating havoc with their defensive front and linebackers,” Toledo co-offensive coordinator Mike Hallett said. “We need to be on point with getting their guys accounted for in the run game and the pass game.”
Middle Tennessee forced two or more turnovers in a game eight times during the regular season, including six against Marshall and five in a win over Southern Miss.
“Our defense has done a great job,” Stockstill said. “Our coaches have done a great job in spending an enormous amount of time at each practice with our turnover emphasis. I talk about it constantly.”
The Blue Raiders’ defense will be facing one of their biggest tests. Toledo scored an average of more than 43 point per game over the last five games of the regular season (4-1 record), including three games in which the Rockets totaled 49 points. Toledo running back Bryant Koback has rushed for 1,274 yards including an average of 6.7 yards per carry.
“(Koback) is a very good player and I think their coaches do a great job with their scheme,” Middle Tennessee defensive coordinator Scott Shafer said. “They know what they do, and they do it well.”
Middle Tennessee scored 44 or more points in three of the Blue Raiders’ six victories.
The Bahamas Bowl has traditionally been high scoring with an average of 61.8 combined points per game.
Friday’s game is the first of the college bowl season and pits two teams making their second trip to The Bahamas. MTSU lost the 2015 Bahamas Bowl appearance to Western Michigan, 45-31. Toledo came up a field goal short in the 2018 Bahamas Bowl to FIU, 35-32 – the Rockets’ most recent bowl game appearance.