- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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You saw the the preview and prediction. Now here are three keys for Western Michigan (7-5) as it takes on Purdue (6-6) in the Little Caesars Bowl on Tuesday afternoon:
1. Stop the run. Yes, Purdue will be without leading rusher Ralph Bolden, but this is a team that likes to run the ball, and will continue to rely on the run. That is going to be a huge test for a Western Michigan defense that has a tough time stopping teams on the ground this season, ranking No. 107 in the nation in rushing defense. Northern Illinois and Toledo each ran for more than 400 yards on the Broncos, so this has not exactly been an area of strength. If there is a silver lining, it is that Purdue will be without is best runner, and that defensive tackle Drew Nowak ranks No. 4 in the nation with 20 tackles for loss. Purdue must have an answer for him.
2. Throw it again, Alex. Western Michigan had its best success this season when it was able to gain chunks of yards in the passing game. The Broncos can run with Tevin Drake leading the way, but they are best when Alex Carder is hitting a variety of receivers. Jordan White has been great, but there are other options, too. Western Michigan is one of only four programs in FBS with three receivers with more than 50 catches this season (Robert Arnheim, Chleb Ravenell).
3. Nowak time. Speaking of Nowak, he is going to have to be a force not only against the run, but in the pass game as well. The MAC Defensive Player of the Year has 8.5 sacks on the season and plenty of tackles for loss, and has been the most consistent player up front for the Broncos. Purdue ranks No. 81 in the nation in sacks allowed (27), so there will be opportunities to get after Caleb TerBush. If Purdue is able to double Nowak successfully, defensive end Freddie Bishop could have a big game. He has 5.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss this season.