Purdue is headed to a bowl for the first time since the 2007 season, and just like that year it will be playing in Detroit. Danny Hope and the Boilermakers take on Western Michigan in the Little Caesars Bowl at 4:30 p.m. ET Dec. 27.
BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart breaks down the game, gives his keys and offers his prediction for this bowl game. He’ll be doing this for all ten Big Ten bowl games and we’ll roll out the previews in the coming days. See it all in this post. Also, view our entire 2011-12 bowl schedule for TV info, times and links to team stat pages.
Storyline: In his third season in West Lafayette, Danny Hope is taking Purdue to its first bowl appearance since 2007, when it played Central Michigan in this same bowl. Led by QB Curtis Painter, the Boilermakers secured a wild 51-48 victory four years ago. Purdue is looking for another strong finish as it attempts to win two games in a row for the first time this season vs. a Western Michigan squad that is making its first bowl appearance since 2008 under coach Bill Cubit.
Player on the spot: QB Caleb TerBush. In the summer, the junior was third-string. But that changed quickly, as TerBush assumed starting duties after sophomore Rob Henry incurred a season-ending knee injured in August and senior backup Robert Marve still wasn’t over a 2010 knee surgery. TerBush went on to start each game, though Marve saw action in nine contests. Still, TerBush is the man, hitting 61 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns, but the aerial attack lacks an ability to throw deep with aplomb. Still, all in all, not bad for a guy who missed 2010 because of academics.
Best individual matchup: Purdue CB Ricardo Allen vs. Western Michigan WR Jordan White. The diminutive Allen (5-9) plays big, showing toughness in run support while doubling as a force in coverage with a knack for making picks. White, a senior, is a consensus All-American who has 127 receptions for 1,646 yards this season. And at 6-0, 215 pounds, White will be a handful for Allen, a sophomore and likely future pro who has run back three interceptions for touchdowns in his career and has six picks overall.
Best unit matchup: Purdue defensive line vs. Western Michigan offensive line. The Boilermaker front has underrated athletic ability with the likes of T Kawann Short, a first-team All-Big Ten pick as a junior, and redshirt freshman Ryan Russell and senior Gerald Gooden coming off the edge. The unit must not let the Broncos establish the run while getting pressure on QB Alex Carder and Western Michigan’s no–huddle spread scheme that employs multiple wideouts.
Fast fact: Danny Hope has struggled vs. MAC foes, boasting a 2-2 mark. In 2009, he beat Toledo and lost to Northern Illinois. In 2010, Hope topped Ball State but lost to Toledo.
Three reasons to be optimistic
1. Western Michigan’s defense isn’t very good. In fact, it ranks 12th in the 13-team MAC, yielding 434.1 yards per game. The rushing defense is especially bad, allowing 215.9 yards to rank 10th in the MAC. But the group is third in the league with 27 turnovers generated and brings the heat up front. Still, Purdue’s offense should find plenty of room to operate unfettered.
2. Special teams. They have been good most of the season and could be the difference in what may be a close game. Senior K Carson Wiggs seemingly has limitless range, riding a streak of nine field goals made in a row and hitting 16-of-21 on the season. Sophomore Cody Webster is among the top punters in the Big Ten, ranking second in the conference with a 43.3-yard average. And Raheem Mostert has been a revelation in the return game as a true freshman with an average of 31 yards per kickoff return.
3. Stopping the pass. Purdue excels at it, which is good facing a Western Michigan team that paces the MAC and ranks eighth in the nation in passing (328.8 ypg). Foes have tossed just 14 touchdown passes vs. a veteran Boilermaker secondary led by CBs Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson and S Albert Evans.
Three reasons to worry
1. Western Michigan’s offense. It’s good, tallying more than 40 points in five games and ranking third in the MAC in scoring (35.6 ppg). Bronco WR Jordan White paces the national in receiving yards (1,646), receiving yards per game (137.17), receptions (127) and receptions per game (10.58). Junior QB Alex Carder averages 312.2 passing yards to pace MAC signal-callers.
2. Purdue’s ground game. The attack suffered a blow when RB Ralph Bolden suffered a third injury to his right knee in the season finale. Bolden leads the squad with 674 yards on the ground. Purdue will turn to junior Akeem Shavers, true freshman Akeem Hunt and others to tote the rock. And the sledding could be tough vs. a Western Michigan front anchored by T Drew Nowak, who was the MAC Defensive Player of the Year.
3. Motivation. Yes, Purdue was hungry for any bowl bid. But will be it “dialed in” for this bowl after being passed over for postseasons spots by the TicketCity Bowl and Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas to fall all the way to the last postseason slot with a Big Ten tie-in? Purdue even saw Ohio State get selected over it to the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, despite the fact the Boilermakers have a better league mark than the Buckeyes and beat Ohio State.
My pick: Purdue 31, Western Michigan 29
Tom Dienhart is a senior writer for BTN.com. Find all of his work at www.btn.com/tomdienhart, follow Dienhart on Twitter at @BTNTomDienhart, send a question to his weekly mailbag here, and click here to subscribe to his RSS feed.