Posted by Jerry Hinnen
PURDUE WON: Don't have a great answer for the opponent's offense? Don't let them use it.
That was the solution for the Boilermakers against Western Michigan Tuesday, as a pair of surprise onsides kicks, 265 rushing yards, and 6 forced turnovers combined to give Purdue a 35:54-24:06 advantage in time-of-possession. The Broncos' patented passing attack did its usual damage, collecting 439 yards and 3 touchdowns, but quarterback Alex Carder threw four interceptions and three drives inside the Purdue 30 netted a total of just three points. Add in a 99-yard Raheem Mostert kickoff return for touchdown, and for all of the Broncos' success in the air, nearly all the plays that really mattered went the way of the Boilermakers.
That still shouldn't overshadow the incredible effort from WMU All-American wide receiver Jordan White, who hauled in 13 receptions -- many of them of the highlight-reel variety -- for 265 yards.
WHY PURDUE WON: It's hard to overstate exactly how big Carson Wiggs' two successful first-half onsides kicks were for the Boilers; by playing keep-away from Carder and the Bronco offense and giving themselves short fields to work with, Danny Hope's aggressive calls gave Purdue a command of the game they never relinquished. The Broncos were forced to chase the game from the middle of the second quarter on, and they never did catch up to it.
But a major part of that failure was how dominant the Purdue defense was on third- and fourth-and-short. Down 24-15 late in the second quarter, Bill Cubit elected to run up the middle on 4th-and-1 from his own 44; Tevin Drake was stuffed to set up a Purdue field goal. (Remember what we said about chasing the game?) So facing a third and then fourth-and-1 at the Purdue 20 in the second half, the Broncos called for back-to-back pass plays for Carder; two incompletions later, it was Purdue ball again. Then there was the Bronco drive that reached the Purdue 4 and saw the Boilermakers commit a pair of penalties, meaning WMU had five chances to score, including three from the 2 or closer; they settled for a field goal.
Combine that kind of short-yardage futility with six turnovers and various special teams gaffes, and it's something of a wonder the Broncos came as close as they did.
WHEN PURDUE WON: Not until the Broncos' final, potentially triumphant drive was cut short on just its second play when Ryan Russell stripped Carder from behind for the sixth and final WMU turnover.
WHAT PURDUE WON: Their first winning season under Hope and their first bowl championship since 2007. A win in the Little Caesar's Bowl over MAC opposition may not sound like much to a Big Ten team, but the dual onsides kicks should tell you how much it meant to Hope and his team.
WHAT WESTERN MICHIGAN LOST: Their most recent, arguably best-ever shot to win a bowl game -- the Broncos are now 0-5 all-time, 0-4 as a D-I school -- and their final chance with talents like Carder and White that may not come around again any time soon. This one will sting.
THAT WAS CRAZY: How often do you see a team force a turnover and then turn it back over to the other team while trying to return it? Not often. How often do you see it happen twice in the same half? We don't think we ever have. But that's what WMU managed all the same, stripping Boilermaker defenders after first an interception and then a Carder fumble.
FINAL GRADE: Though not always the most cleanly executed game, the Boilers and Broncos provided a ton of big plays, momentum shifts, and even (finally) some late-game drama as WMU kept getting off the mat after having been seemingly knocked out a half-dozen times. It wasn't quite the 2010 Little Caesar's epic, but it wasn't bad at all. B+.