W. Kentucky plays first-ever bowl Wednesday vs. CMU
CENTRAL MICHIGAN CHIPPEWAS (6-6)
vs. WESTERN KENTUCKY HILLTOPPERS (7-5)
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl - Detroit, MI
Kickoff: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. EDT
Line: Western Kentucky -6, Total: 57
Western Kentucky makes its bowl debut on Wednesday night when it takes on Central Michigan in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit.
The Chippewas will be playing in their fourth Little Caesars Bowl in seven years, losing each of the past two by a field goal. They are riding a three-game win streak (SU and ATS) thanks mostly to RB Zurlon Tipton who has six straight 100-yard games with 13 TD during this streak. The Hilltoppers also have a star running back in Antonio Andrews who has carried the ball 264 times in his past 10 games, racking up 238 and 230 yards in his past two games. He is a big reason why WKU is 6-0 ATS (4-2 SU) in non-home games this season. Defensive coordinator Lance Guidry will coach the Hilltoppers in this game after head man Willie Taggart left for South Florida. Due to a violation of team policy, Central Michigan suspended two of its top three wide receivers for this game -- Titus Davis (team-high 860 rec. yds, 8 rec. TD) and Courtney Williams (24 rec, 260 yds).
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Central Michigan has won three straight (SU and ATS), but these three opponents -- Eastern Michigan, Miami-Ohio and UMass have a combined record of 7-29 (.194) this year. Despite the win streak, senior QB Ryan Radcliff has connected on just 43-of-76 passes (56.6%) for 573 yards, 4 TD and 2 INT. With both Davis and Williams suspended for this game, Radcliff will rely heavily on erratic senior WR Cody Wilson, who has four 100-yard games, but seven sub-55-yard efforts this season. The good news is that Zurlon Tipton has gotten stronger throughout the season with 894 rushing yards (149 YPG) on 6.1 yards per carry in the second half of the 2012 campaign. His 19 rushing touchdowns are one shy of the school record set in 1994. Defensively, CMU is not very good in any facet, as the school ranks 98th in FBS in scoring defense (33.3 PPG), 96th in total defense (443 YPG) and tied for 99th in sacks (1.4 per game). The one saving grace is their increase in takeaways from five over the first six games of the season to 13 in the year's final six contests.
Western Kentucky's offensive philosophy is pretty simple: give the football to Antonio Andrews. The junior needs just 274 yards to break the NCAA all-time record for all-purpose yards in a season set by Barry Sanders in 1988. Andrews has rushed for 1,609 yards and 11 TD, caught 23 passes for 411 yards and 3 TD, and returned kicks and punts for a combined 957 yards and one touchdown. Senior QB Kawaun Jakes ranks 28th in the nation in passing efficiency (7.9 YPA, 21 TD and 11 TD), but he has failed to throw for 200 yards in each of his past three games, tossing 5 INTs and just 3 TDs in this stretch. WKU will miss Taggart on the sidelines, but it can take solace in the fact that Guidry won his last bowl game in the interim coach role, leading Miami-Ohio to a win in the 2011 GoDaddy.com Bowl. However, the team will still be missing Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year, DE Quanterus Smith (12.5 sacks in 10 games), due to a knee injury. He was a big reason the Hilltoppers led their conference with 2.6 sacks per game and placed 12th in the nation in Tackles For Loss (7.4 per game). WKU also has a strong pass defense, ranking second in the Sun Belt with 206 passing YPG allowed.