- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Little Caesars Bowl delivered plenty of twists and turns, including two successful onside kicks, a flea flicker for a touchdown, a two-point conversion on a fake extra point and a kickoff return for a touchdown. And then they played the second half.
Purdue won in its first bowl appearance since 2007, when it also beat a MAC team (Central Michigan) in Detroit in what was then called the Motor City Bowl.
How the game was won: If all you knew about this game was that Purdue forced six turnovers, returned a kick for a touchdown, recovered a pair of onside kicks and got three fourth-down stops, you'd probably assume the Boilermakers blew out Western Michigan. But Purdue made plenty of mistakes of its own and had to hold on late to secure the victory. The game was decided by A) the kicking game, which the Boilers used to great effect with a 99-yard touchdown return by Raheem Mostert and two first-half onside kick gambles by Danny Hope that led to points; and B) the running game, as Purdue piled up over 260 yards on the ground to dominate the time of possession.
Turning point: Western Michigan got the ball back with 2:16 left and had a chance to win the game with its potent offense. But Purdue freshman defensive lineman Ryan Russell stripped the ball from quarterback Alex Carder, and teammate Bruce Gaston recovered to bring on the Boilers' victory formation unit. Carder threw for 413 yards but also tossed four interceptions and fumbled twice.
Player of the game: Though he came out on the losing end, Western Michigan receiver Jordan White showed why he led the country in catches and receiving yards this season. He finished with 13 catches for 249 yards and a touchdown despite the extra attention Purdue paid to him.
Player of the game II: Missing leading rusher Ralph Bolden, who tore his ACL in the season finale, Purdue needed someone to step forward in the running game. That someone turned out to be Akeem Shavers, who ran 22 times for 148 yards, nearly doubling his previous career high.
Unsung hero: Purdue suspended third-leading receiver O.J. Ross for the bowl game. No problem, as Gary Bush picked up the slack. The sophomore chipped in with six catches for a career-high 90 yards, including a 33-yard touchdown.
Spirit of giving: On two separate occasions, Purdue handed a turnover right back to Western Michigan. Both involved Gerald Gooden and Josh Schaffer. Schaffer, a receiver, stripped and recovered the ball from Gooden after one of the Boilers defensive end's two interceptions. Late in the fourth quarter, Gooden forced a Carder fumble that Russell picked up, but Schaffer hustled down the field again to knock the ball away and put the Broncos back in business.
What it means: Purdue, which beat Indiana in the regular-season finale, won back-to-back games for the first time all year. The Boilermakers had to win this game in order to build some momentum under Hope, who was rewarded with a two-year contract extension last week but still needs to convince fans and alumni he's the man to move the program forward. A loss would have opened up new questions about Hope, but instead Purdue showed creativity and daring -- if not always great attention to detail -- in its game plan. With Ohio State ineligible for the Big Ten title game, Illinois and Penn State both in transition and Wisconsin needing to replace important players and coaches on the offensive side, the Boilermakers just might be a sleeper in the Leaders Division in 2012. Western Michigan's mantra leading up to this game was "Make history." But the Broncos fell to 0-5 all time in bowl games and must regroup to try again without the top receiver in school history.
Record performance: With his big game Tuesday night, White broke MAC records for both single-season and career receiving yards.
The Little Caesars Bowl delivered plenty of twists and turns, including two successful onside kicks, a flea flicker for a touchdown, a two-point conversion on a fake extra point and a kickoff return for a touchdown.