Western Michigan of the Mid-American Conference enters with a 7-5 record having won its last two games. The Broncos picked up a big win earlier this year over Connecticut of the Big East, but lost to both Michigan and Illinois from the Big Ten. Head coach Bill Cubit's team is a special group as it broke 11 school records, boasts eight All-MAC selections, the MAC Defensive Player of the Year, and two All-Americans on its 2011 squad.
This is Western Michigan's fifth bowl game in school history. The team has lost all four previous postseason affairs, including a 38-14 loss to Rice in the 2008 Texas Bowl.
The Boilermakers are making their first bowl appearance since 2007 and first under third-year head coach Danny Hope. Purdue finished with a 6-6 overall record after it beat Indiana in its final game to become bowl eligible. The Boilermakers had notable wins over Illinois and Ohio State this season as well.
This will be just the third time these programs have squared off. Purdue has won both previous meetings.
Western Michigan's offense is led by the dynamic duo of Alex Carder and Jordan White. The quarterback and receiver have combined to give the Broncos the MAC's top passing attack and eighth best aerial attack in the nation with an average of 328.3 yards through the air per game. Carder ranks seventh in the nation with 335.2 yards of total offense per game and has had some huge performances this season including a 548-yard and seven-touchdown passing day against Toledo in a thrilling 66-63 loss. Carder has shown he is capable of torching defenses as the junior has set a school record with four 400-plus yard games this year and is currently riding a streak of three 400-yard passing games in a row into the bowl.
The Broncos are not know for running the ball, but when they do, Tevin Drake is a serviceable back. Drake averages 5.59 yard per carry and rushed for 570 yards during the regular season.
Carder has had the luxury of passing to the nation's leading receiver in receptions and receiving yards per game in Jordan White.
" I know he's going to find space, make some kind of play. He's not always trying to make a big play, but he's always going to make the efficient play" Carder said of his favorite target.
Jordan White is 110 yards from breaking the MAC record for career receiving yards (Darius Watts, Marshall - 4,031 yds) and 125 yards from breaking the MAC record for single-season receiving yards (Freddie Barnes, Bowling Green - 1,770 yds in 2009).White finished the season strong with four-straight 100- plus yard receiving games in which he caught multiple touchdown passes in each contest. Chleb Ravenell and Robert Arnheim are both very good secondary options if defenses key on White too much. The senior passing targets were ranked ninth and 11th in the conference in receiving yards.
Western Michigan's defense is not spectacular with national rankings of 100th in total yards of offense allowed per game (434.1 ypg.) and 72nd in scoring defense (28 ppg.). Although the numbers were not too impressive, the Broncos had the 2011 MAC Defensive Player of the Year Drew Nowak. The senior defensive lineman accumulated 83 tackles, 8.5 sacks, and a forced fumble on his way to the award. Johnnie Simon leads the team with 103 total tackles.
Purdue has a more balanced attack as it is ranked sixth in the Big Ten in both rushing and passing. The Boilermakers average 371.4 yards of total offense per game and 26.1 ppg. Caleb TerBush is the team's with 1804 passing yards with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. Robert Marve has also seen action behind center in the last five games, but TerBush sees most of the action.
Danny Hope had nothing but praise when asked about TerBush's 2011 performance. "I think he has done a great job from a composure stand point and being able to manage the offense and keeping us out of trouble. I think that was the difference maker in our offense being able to gain some momentum as the season went on."
The Boilermakers will be without top running back Ralph Bolden who injured his knee in the season finale. Akeem Shavers and Akeem Hunt will split the carries with Bolden sidelined. Shavers had a season-high rushing performance of 75 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries earlier in the season against Southeast Missouri State, but has not rushed for more than 60 yards in a game since. Hunt is considered the top true freshman running back Purdue has had in a long time. Hunt is a big reason Purdue is still playing as he dashed for a career- high 100 yards on 10 carries in the season finale win that clinched bowl eligibility.
Antavian Edison and Justin Siller do not have the numbers of Western Michigan's wideouts, but Purdue's top receivers can make an impact. Edison had his best game of the season against Notre Dame with 105 yards and a touchdown on seven catches. Siller is a possession receiver who has had three or more grabs in all but two games this year.
Purdue's defense is ranked 68th in the nation in total yards of offense allowed (388.5) and 64th in scoring defense (26.4 ppg). The strength of the defensive unit is its passing defense with Ricardo Allen, Joe Holland, and Albert Evans locking up receivers. The team's defensive MVP Kawann Short is sure to make an impact as well as the junior defensive lineman racked up 6.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss during the regular season.