When it looked like we were going to the TicketCity Bowl to face Houston at first I was scared. I feared Case Keenum going all mad bomber on us, but after some thought, it would have at least been a chance against a solid, ranked team to see how we can prove ourselves. Instead, we're in Detroit playing a pseudo-road game against a Western Michigan team that rarely gets a home game against a Big Ten opponent. I keep trying to be optimistic in thinking that things will suddenly click. I know that Danny Hope is going nowhere regardless of what happens, and he is genuinely a very nice guy. I want him to succeed and I keep trying to hold on to hope that eventually it is all going to suddenly click. That is why this bowl game is so important. Sure, it is not against a big time opponent, but it is another game where maybe, just maybe, it all comes together.
Western Michigan should provide a good challenge too. If healthy, they have a great quarterback that will test our secondary. They have one of the best statistical receivers in the nation, but they are nearly as one-dimensional in one direction as Ohio State. Where Ohio State couldn't throw, the Broncos can't run. The defense is also a question mark, as they are the only team to score 63 points and lose a game.
2010 Record: 6-6 (5-3 MAC West)
Bowl Result: None
2011 Record: 7-5 (5-3 MAC West)
Blog Representation: none (The Hustle Belt provides excellent MAC coverage overall)
Series With Purdue: Purdue leads 2-0
Last Purdue Win: 28-24 on 9/14/2002
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This Season for Western Michigan:
As I mentioned last night, we have two common opponents with them. They lost the season opener at Michigan 34-10 in a game that was shortened to less than three quarters due to lightning. They also lost 23-20 at Illinois in a game where Western Michigan led at halftime and was tied until midway through the fourth quarter. Clearly, these guys can play with Big Ten teams. They also had a very nice win at Connecticut 38-31.
This team can compete with mid-level BCS conference teams. They have a win and a near win. Their game with Illinois came when the Fighting Illini were still playing well and in the top 25, so I wouldn't dismiss that game at all. They still led that game 7-0 after one quarter and trailed 20-10 at the half.
The rest of the schedule is pretty wild, including a 66-63 loss to Toledo. I thought it was virtually impossible to lose while scoring 63 points in college football, but I was wrong.
Western Michigan Offense:
Carder is the real deal, but he may not be fully healthy. He the season finale against Akron. Against the Zips he didn't play because of a stinger in his throwing arm that caused numbness, but his backup, Tyler VanTubbergen, was 19 of 21 for 252 yards and six touchdowns. If Carder is fully healthy he will start.
Now that his stats from the game against Michigan count again I can tell you that he 3,434 yards passing on 299 of 445 attempts with 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 11 games. In this, his second years as a starter, he has thrown for over 500 yards once and over 400 three more times. This is a kid that could be a genuine NFL prospect after his senior season next year. He can even run a bit with 253 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. He had 95 yards rushing against Bowling Green. He's not exactly Denard Robinson, but he is not stone-footed, either. At the very least he is nimble enough to escape pressure.
Tevin Drake is the leading rusher, but this is a team that most definitely relies on its passing game. Blake has only 57- yards and four touchdowns, while Brian Fields and Carder are the only other rushers with over 100 yards. As a team they have over 1,500 yards on the ground and 16 touchdowns, but almost 70% of their total yards are through the air. This is most definitely a pass first team.
One of the most frustrating things I saw this year was Marvin McNutt going virtually uncovered for the Iowa game. He was one of the best receivers in the conference, but he was ridiculously open all day even though Iowa's passing game was heavily skewed in his direction. We have a similar situation here with Jordan White. He is the best statistical receiver in all of FBS. No one has more yards than his 1,646. He has more receptions (127) than anyone in the country and is the only receiver averaging over 10 catches per game. He also has 16 touchdowns. I cannot stress this enough or make it any more simple: They will be throwing to White and if we can prevent that from happening, we will win. Unfortunately, we have failed miserably at adjusting to excellent receivers like McNutt and Micheal Floyd already this year.
Chleb Ravenell is a good enough receiver that the option of doubling White may not be there. His numbers (59-769-8) are good enough to be a number 1 on most teams. Robert Arnheim (59-662-4) is also a very capable third option. You're looking at guys here that have nearly 3,000 yards and 28 touchdowns combined. Yes, it was mostly against MAC competition, but the numbers are compressed even more when you consider that there were no passing touchdowns against Michigan. The same is true for a 14-10 loss to Eastern Michigan.
The O-line has kept Carder clean for the most part, giving up only 22 sacks. They have surrendered over 60 tackles for loss, however. Dann O'Neill was the only player on the line named to an all-MAC team, and he was a third team selection.
WMU can definitely get to the quarterback with 26 sacks on the year. Drew Nowak was the MAC's Defensive Player of the Year with 8.5 sacks, 20 tackles for loss, and 83 total tackles. The senior is probably going to be drafted and make some NFL team very happy. Freddy Bishop is also very effective on the defensive line with 5.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss.
Akeem Shavers and Akeem Hunt should have plenty of room to run, as Western Michigan's defense is pretty lousy against the run. They give up 215 yards per game on the ground. The pass defense is pretty good at 218 yards per game, but part of that may come from them giving up so much on the ground. Our best bet is to run the ball and keep their offense off the field, Carder and White cannot hurt us if they don't have the ball. Mitch Zajac is a decent senior linebacker with 84 tackles.
Ricardo Allen won't be the shortest defender on the field, as 5'6" Aaron Winchester has converted from running back to cornerback this year and has gotten 72 tackles and an interception. Still, we should have a size mismatch we can take advantage of, especially if he is on Justin Siller. Johnnie Simon is their leading tackler at safety with 103 stops and two interceptions. Doug Wiggins and Demetrius Pettway also have two interceptions apiece, as this is a pretty good unit against the pass. WMU has only given up 16 passing TD's this year.
Jordan White also returns punts for better than 12 yards per kick, so he could be a danger on a return if one of Gibboney's brilliant coverage schemes fails. Dervon Wallace is averaging over 24 yards on kick returns, but he's not the same caliber as Raheem Mostert. In the kicking game John Potter is 15 of 21 with a long of 45 yards on field goals. Ben Armer is a good punter at 41.5 yards per kick.
This would be a game where I would love to see Carson Wiggs try one from the parking lot just for the hell of it.
After eight straight games against Big Ten competition it is nice to see a team that has major strengths, but also major flaws. The strength of their defense is clearly the passing game, while the run defense is lacking. Therefore, we should definitely play to our offensive strength and run the ball. Their offensive strength is the passing game, while we haven't allowed a 300 yard passer since Middle Tennessee State. Their running game is hardly a threat, so expect a lot of nickel looks as we try to slow them through the air.
WMU has already opened as a one point favorite, but if we play to our ability we should have little trouble in winning this. Run the ball down their throats and cover their receivers. That's all we really need to do.