Bowl Blitz: Purdue, Western Michigan Styles Clash at Little Caesars Pizza Bowl


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Ah, college. Who doesn’t miss those days when one’s metabolism was so vibrant, a game of pick-up basketball would negate the ills of a Ramen, $5 Hot-N-Ready and Keystone Light diet? It’s difficult to believe that this once constituted a weekend’s entire diet — and college weekends were typically Thursday afternoon through Sunday — without also including an emergency angiogram. It’s equally surprising that a staple of the college diet now sponsors a bowl game, though of the three Little Caesars is the most obvious choice.

That’s a shame too, because Keith Stone would make for an excellent bowl game ambassador.

The Little Caesars Pizza (former Motor City) Bowl is a lot like the $5 Hot-N-Ready: the ingredients may not be the most awe-inspiring, but the end result is oftentimes surprisingly pleasing. Last year’s game ended with FIU head coach Mario Cristobal taking a page from Varsity Blues and utilizing the hook-and-lateral to step up the Golden Panthers’ game-winner. Each of the last four of these games have been decided by single digits, including the last time 2011 participant Purdue was in it.

In what was coincidentally its last postseason appearance, Purdue beat Central Michigan in a classic. The Joe Tiller-coached Boilermakers that scored 51 points against Central Michigan were a much different bunch from the current incarnation. Head coach Danny Hope employs a much more conservative style than Purdue offenses that broke records with Drew Brees, Kyle Orton and Curtis Painter behind center.

Quarterbacks Caleb TerBush and Robert Mavre have exactly harked to the days of yesteryear when Purdue was airing it out for 35 points per game. The duo combined for 15 passing touchdowns and 11 interceptions, with a completion percentage below 59. Thus, the run game is a more stable part of the offense. The Boilers went for a hair under 2100 yards per game rushing and with 479 attempts, ran 109 times more than they passed.

Typically such teams are quite effectively turning those carries into yards, a la Georgia Tech or Air Force. But Purdue had no rushers surpass 700 yards, and the top two Boiler ball carriers (Ralph Bolden and Akeem Shavers) averaged just 4.6 and 4.2 yards per attempt.

Opposing offenses rushed for more yards than Purdue, passed for more, and actually scored more on average. Purdue even lost to Rice. Yet here are the Boilers, 6-6 and Hope with a long-term contract extension. An ironic set of circumstances to say the least, but the Boilermakers deserve credit.

In the season’s second half, Purdue won three Big Ten games by a combined 18 points, including a 21-17 defensive struggle against Ohio State. Overall, four of its six wins came by single digits. Ultimately, Purdue did enough to win the games it should have — well, expect Rice. But thereafter, Purdue avoided letdowns. That’s all a team needs to do to bowl in this era.

WMU is the offensive opposite to Purdue’s methodical if not sluggish approach, an aerial-based offense that threw 127 times more than it ran. Alex Carder embodied MACtion: 28 touchdowns, 3434 yards on 299 completions. It didn’t hurt Carder’s production having arguably the most prolific collegiate receiver of 2011, either.

Jordan White accounted for 16 of Carder’s 28 scoring strikes, and led the FBS with 1646 receiving yards. Both figures are more than First Team All-Americans Robert Woods, Ryan Broyles and Justin Blackmon.

A Purdue defense’s hope (pun not intended) of slowing the Bill Cubit’s 35.6 point per game offense is making Carder uncomfortable in the pocket. The WMU offensive line surrendered 23 sacks on the season; four were in WMU’s two previous match-ups with Big Ten opponents, losses to Michigan and Illinois.

Kawann Short emerged as the Boilers’ best pass rusher with 6.5 sacks, but Purdue’s ability to attack the backfield certainly took a step back from a season ago when Ryan Kerrigan was terrorizing opponents off the edge.

Sustained possessions were not a strong suit for either offense. Purdue ranked No. 90 among FBS programs at 28:45. WMU’s possession differential was even worse, among the lowest in the entire FBS at 27:50. The disparities each face have resulted in similar point per game yields of 28 (WMU) and 26.8 (PU). The team that can establish ball control should be at a decided advantage.