- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Breaking down today’s Little Caesars Bowl matchup between Western Kentucky and Central Michigan:
1. Zapping Zurlon: Not only does Central Michigan’s Zurlon Tipton have one of the best names in all of college football, but he’s the centerpiece of the Chippewas’ offense. Tipton, a 6-foot-1, 219-pound junior running back, has been Mr. Dependable: He has rushed for 100 yards or more in each of his past six contests and has 19 touchdowns on the season. Western Kentucky has been pretty salty on defense this season and is 32nd nationally against the run. The Hilltoppers are allowing 138.2 yards per game on the ground. Holding Tipton under 100 yards would go a long way toward making Western Kentucky’s first bowl appearance a successful one.
2. Replacing Quanterus: The Hilltoppers will be without their best defensive player. Senior defensive end Quanterus Smith tore the ACL in his left leg in the next-to-last game of the regular season and underwent season-ending surgery. He had 12.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss and was easily Western Kentucky’s most dynamic game-changer on defense. Redshirt freshman Gavin Rocker started in Smith’s place in the regular-season finale, but the Hilltoppers also plan to rotate in sophomore T.J. Smith and freshman Calvin Washington. Central Michigan quarterback Ryan Radcliff isn’t much of a threat to run, but he is effective at avoiding the rush, moving laterally and finding his receiving targets. The Chippewas have given up only 14 sacks in 12 games.
3. Winning up front: Stopping the run hasn’t been Central Michigan’s strong suit. The Chippewas, who see a lot of spread offenses in the MAC, are 98th nationally in rushing defense and allowing an average of 198.3 rushing yards per game. Western Kentucky will try to set the tone with its running game right off the bat. The Hilltoppers are extremely physical in their offensive line and will utilize multiple tight end sets. Throw in Antonio Andrews’ versatility, and this will be a huge test for the Chippewas’ defense. Andrews has rushed for 230 yards or more in each of his past two games. If he gets into a rhythm early, Central Michigan could end up spending the rest of the game on its heels.