NCF Nation: 2011 Little Caesars Bowl

Little Caesars Bowl: Three Keys

December, 26, 2011
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.
Big Ten bowl season kicks off Tuesday night as Purdue faces Western Michigan in the first of 10 bowl games for the league. Here's a quick preview of the Little Caesars Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit:

WHO TO WATCH: Purdue cornerback Ricardo Allen. The Boilermakers are a little light on star power, but Allen is one of the best cover corners in the Big Ten, with a knack for making the big play. The sophomore will be matched up frequently against Western Michigan star Jordan White, who led the nation with 127 catches and 1,646 receiving yards (along with 16 touchdowns) this season. White is likely to get his yards -- he had at least 98 receiving yards in all but two games this season -- but Allen will need to at least make him work for it and try to keep him out of the end zone. Allen also had three interceptions this season, and turnovers could be big in what looks like a close game.

WHAT TO WATCH: Purdue's running game. Leading rusher Ralph Bolden suffered a torn ACL in the season finale against Indiana, so the team's two Akeems -- Akeem Shavers and freshman Akeem Hunt -- will have to come through. Both have had their moments this season, and Hunt averaged 8.6 yards per carry in limited duty. Starting quarterback Caleb TerBush can also take off and run. The Boilermakers don't own an explosive downfield passing game, but they might not need one against a Western Michigan team that allowed 216 rushing yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry this season. The Broncos faced and lost to two other Big Ten teams this season: Michigan ran for 190 yards (at 7.3 yards per carry) in less than three full quarters of a weather-shortened game, while Illinois produced two 100-yard rushers while rolling up 296 on the ground.

WHY TO WATCH: This is Purdue's first bowl game since 2007. The fan base has been slow to accept third-year coach Danny Hope, but the school showed faith by extending his contract last week. The Boilers failed to win back-to-back games all season and need a good bowl performance to build some momentum in the program. But how focused is the team? Three players have been arrested and another suspended since the end of the season, and receiver O.J. Ross and linebacker Dwayne Beckford won't play in the game. The Big Ten has some difficult matchups this bowl season, and the league could use a victory over a MAC opponent to get things started.

PREDICTION: Purdue 34, Western Michigan 33. The Broncos' dynamic passing game with White and quarterback Alex Carder will cause some problems for Purdue, which needs defensive tackle Kawann Short to disrupt things in the middle. The Boilermakers could have a tough time if they fall behind early. But Western Michigan struggles mightily against the run, something Purdue ought to be able to exploit all game even without Bolden. I see this one going down to the wire, with perhaps a key special-teams play deciding it.
Western Michigan (7-5) takes on Purdue (6-6) in the Little Caesars Bowl on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. Here is a quick preview:

WHO TO WATCH: Receiver Jordan White. White got a sixth season of eligibility and made the most of it, becoming the first consensus All-American in school history, and the sixth in MAC history. White had a stellar season, with 127 catches for 1,646 yards and 16 touchdowns to lead the nation in both receptions and receiving yards. He is 110 yards from breaking the MAC record for career receiving yards (Darius Watts, Marshall — 4,031 yards) and 125 yards from breaking the MAC record for single-season receiving yards (Freddie Barnes, Bowling Green — 1,770 yards in 2009).

WHAT TO WATCH: Western Michigan is playing in its fifth postseason bowl game, but is looking for its first victory. The good news is that Ford Field has been a good venue for the Broncos under coach Bill Cubit. They are 2-0 in two previous appearances there: a 44-36 win against Eastern Michigan in 2005 and a 23-17 win against Illinois in 2008.

WHY TO WATCH: The connection between White and Alex Carder is probably the best you have never seen. Carder, who missed the regular-season finale with an injury, is healthy and expected to start. In his past three starts, he has thrown for more than 400 yards, and actually has six games this season with 300 yards or more. Carder ranks No. 7 in the nation in passing. Only Matt Barkley to Robert Woods, Brandon Weeden to Justin Blackmon, Case Keenum to Patrick Edwards and Kellen Moore to Tyler Shoemaker have been more prolific than Carder to White when it comes to touchdowns.

PREDICTION: Western Michigan 35, Purdue 30. The Broncos have lost five straight to Big Ten teams, but the Broncos did hold a halftime lead on Illinois, and beat a team from an AQ conference in UConn earlier this season. Cubit also has wins against Illinois and Iowa on his resume. I think the passing game will be on target, and Western Michigan will pull the upset.