Florida International vs Toledo
When: 12:30 PM ET, Friday, December 21, 2018
Where: Thomas Robinson Stadium, Nassau
Preview for (@DigSportsDesk) by Gracenote
MAKERS WANTED BAHAMAS BOWL STORYLINES
Florida International’s regular season ended on a disappointing note as its 28-25 loss to Marshall prevented the school from earning a coveted spot in the Conference USA title game. But all was not lost, however, as the Panthers still garnered a well-deserved trip out of the country to face Toledo on Dec. 21 in the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl in Nassau. It’s FIU’s second straight bowl berth under coach Butch Davis (0-1) – and only the fourth in the program’s history – while Toledo has a much richer postseason tradition with eight bowl appearances in the last nine years and 18 overall.
While FIU stumbled a bit at the finish with two losses in its last four games to fall into a second-place tie in the East Division of C-USA, it still equaled the school record for victories (eight) – with a chance to surpass it with a Bahamas Bowl win. The sentiment was quite a bit different in Toledo, where the Rockets soared down the stretch to keep alive their bowl hopes, winning five of their last six contests to extend their streak of winning seasons to nine. Toledo also finished tied for second in the West Division of the Mid-American Conference – putting the teams on a collision course for the Bahamas Bowl, which annually pits the MAC against C-USA in a series currently even at two wins apiece.
Offense will be the name of the game when the teams meet for only the fourth time in their history, the last of which came when the Panthers posted a 34-32 victory in the 2010 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl to take a 2-1 advantage in the series. FIU brings in a quarterback somewhat familiar to Toledo as James Morgan threw five touchdown passes against the Rockets in 2016 while starting for Bowling Green, and now he’s lighting it up in his first season with the Panthers, throwing for multiple touchdowns in 10 of his last 11 games. The Rockets will counter with an offense that has scored at least 45 points in four of their last five games, surpassing 50 in three of those contests and six times overall this season.
TV: 12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Toledo -6
ABOUT FIU (8-4, 6-2 C-USA): Morgan proved to be the answer at quarterback this season, leading C-USA in both passer rating and yards per attempt while throwing 26 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions, but he saved his worst performance for the Panthers’ biggest game – the season finale against Marshall in which he failed to throw a scoring pass for the first time all year and recorded his first multi-interception outing of the season with a pair of picks. While the passing attack grabs most of the attention, the Panthers also have a solid running game led by Napoleon Maxwell and D’Vonte Price, and the duo proved its worth by finding some wiggle room against a Marshall defense ranked ninth in the nation against the run. FIU’s defensive front has been pushed around at times this season, giving up 4.6 yards per carry, which won’t get the job done against a Rockets team that is relying much more on the ground game as it is averaging 5.3 yards per rush and 223.6 yards per contest.
ABOUT TOLEDO (7-5, 5-3 MAC): The Rockets thought they were set at quarterback with Mitchell Guadagni filling the void left by star Logan Woodside, but the MAC’s most efficient passer (162.0 rating) missed the last four games due to injury and isn’t expected to play in the Bahamas Bowl, leaving the job again in the hands of Eli Peters. Toledo hardly missed a beat without Guadagni, however, as the offense still chewed up chunks of yardage – producing over 430 yards in each of the last five games thanks to a powerful backfield-by-committee that amassed a total of 677 in the last two contests alone. While the Rockets expect to continue that success against FIU’s not-so-dominant defensive line, their secondary will face its own challenge trying to contain the Morgan-led Panthers as the unit surrendered over 300 yards passing six times this season and ranks 102nd in the nation with 257.8 passing yards allowed per game.