Wednesday, December 26

The Motor City Bowl, or "Seriously, We're Spending Christmas in Detroit?!?"

The Motor City Bowl has been good only in odd years, for some reason. Based on that, we’re in good shape. It also holds the distinction - especially in the last couple of years - as the best game played at Ford Field in December. Fittingly, the Lions realized that and quickly derailed their promising 6-2 start into a 7-8 mess. One of the teams playing in this bowl has more wins than that, and we know there's a direct corollary between wins and team quality. Just ask Kansas about that - they're 11 wins full of quality. And hey, baseball teams are so much better than any football team according to that metric; it's without fail!

The Motor City Bowl: 114% better than the Lions, but only 73% as good as Kansas. I don't think they'll use that as their slogan. But I won't charge them for it if they do; it's so refreshing to see honest advertising. (Alternate Slogans: "The Motor City Bowl: We Fill the Stadium as Much as the Lions Do at One-Third the Cost." “The Motor City Bowl: What Football Would be Like in the War-Torn Balkans.” or “The Motor City Bowl: The Perfect Vacation Destination for Residents of Mt Pleasant Who Like to Travel, but not That Far and Hate the Sunshine.”)

Purdue (by Coach Lawrence)

Considered a preseason sleeper in the Little Ten, Purdue tore through a September schedule that included the likes of Directional Illinois, Directional Michigan, Minnesota, and, yes, Notre Dame. At the time they were one of the highest-scoring offenses in the country and ranked in the top 25 overall... until Ohio State held them scoreless for 59:32 on their own turf in a 23-7 game that really should have been 59-0. Okay, so they’re not #1 in the conference... then came a 27-point loss to a still struggling Michigan team. I won’t say it’s never happened, because Vanilla Ice is evidence to the contrary, but let’s just say that rarely are bandwagons cleared this quickly. In fairness to the Boilermakers, they didn’t really toot their own horns or otherwise ask to be badly overrated... that’s just what happens when the preseason conference favorite loses to the eventual champion of I-AA ball and follows that up with a 32-point loss in a nonconference game. The Boilermakers rebounded to win their next two games (against Iowa and Northwestern) before dropping their final three including an embarrassing loss to Indiana.

Purdue runs a spread offense that gives inferior teams fits and gets laughed at by teams with a good defense, as evidenced by Painter’s 24 point drop in QB rating against teams with a winning record vs his rating teams with a losing record. Similar differential in their seven wins versus in their five losses. Statistically, he has his second-best game of the season in a 45-22 win over Central Michigan in week 3, with his best outing by far coming the week before against Eastern Illinois. However, the biggest difference for Purdue in successful outings vs not has been the ability to get the ground game going. 180 ypg rushing in wins, down to 78 ypg in losses. The defensive ground numbers aren’t as extreme (114 ypg allowed in wins, 198 ypg allowed in losses) but tell a similar story. With a good offense and a bad defense, Purdue relies on some degree of ball control to win. Kory Sheets and Jaycen Taylor both average a shade under 70 ypg rushing apiece; getting on track early has meant a steady stream of points through a surprisingly balanced attack.

Keys to victory:
1. Establish Sheets and Taylor early. The first time these teams met, Purdue gained 112 of their 223 rushing yards in the first quarter en route to a 24-0 lead! I cannot even fathom trying to change something so clearly successful. Pound the ground, like you’re winning 15-minute melee the cheesy way with Donkey Kong.

2. Painter only needs to play a smart game. The 360 yards and 3 TDs he threw against CMU the first time were overkill! What, you say? Purdue outrushed CMU 223-101. If they can duplicate that ground dominance, and I see no reason why they can’t, then Painter will merely need to manage the game and not turn the ball over. Big plays will come by themselves as CMU desperately throws everything they have at the line of scrimmage and leaves their terrible cornerbacks on islands against Bryant and Orton – and who knows who’ll be trying to stop TE Dustin Keller (61 rec, 6 TDs)?

3. Limit CMU’s rushing game. LeFevour is a great QB, but as we’ve already seen this season he cannot outscore Purdue’s offense by himself. That is to say, he is not, nor ever will be, Vince Young. CMU’s rushing totals in wins vs in losses differs by about 100 ypg! Bring heat, keep the linebackers at home – don’t let Hoskins and Sneed get involved, and keep LeFevour behind the line of scrimmage.

Central Michigan
(by Coach Pendley)

Directional Michigan to the rescue! This Michigan is the one who's not a joke, which is a distinction that needs to be made. The fun part is that Kansas already handily beat these guys on the first game of the season – and Purdue beat them, too (to the tune of 45-22). The Chippewas did an excellent job once MAC play began, going 6-1 with their only loss to another Directional Michigan team (Eastern). Couple that with a solid 35-10 win over Miami (OH) in the MAC Championship game and these guys pretty much dominated conference play. That doesn’t forgive their loss to North Dakota State, though. Or getting blown out by Clemson.

I have a thing for QBs who are two-way threats; Dan LeFevour falls into that camp. He was the other QB to both pass and run for 20 TDs on the season (well, only 17 TDs - thanks James - but the point stands), but because he 1) plays in the MAC and 2) isn't a freak of nature means 3) nobody noticed. Still, to call the guy a matchup nightmare would be giving other matchup nightmares too much credit. He's simply a beast. The rest of the offense – mainly the poor man’s rushing combo of Justin Hoskins and Ontario Sneed – isn’t bad necessarily, but they’re not great.

The only problem is that the talent around him ...well, isn't excellent. It isn't really even good, otherwise the team would've probably won a couple of additional games. These guys finished the season 12th in the MAC (and 106th in the country) in scoring D, giving up an average of 36.2 ppg. They’re 71st in the country in rushing D (also allowing 28 TDs on the ground) and 111th (!) in pass defense, turning nearly every QB they play into Andre Woodson.

Keys to Victory:
1: 300/100. The only good news about Central Michigan’s defense is that Boilermakers don’t have the best defense either. (Yeah, it’s better than CMU’s, but not by much.) LeFevour did throw for 364 in their first matchup against Purdue, but he was ineffective on the ground (10 for 26 yards). In order for Central Michigan to have success, he probably needs to go for close to 100 yards on the ground, too. The good news is that he’s done that four times this year, so it’s not totally unexpected.

2: 32 minutes. Getting that much time with the ball will be a bit difficult for a team that has to stretch and sneeze to get to 28 minutes on average, but Central Michigan will have to do something to prevent Purdue from running rampant on their defense.

3: Throw out the history. Yeah, Purdue kind of stomped on Central Michigan the first time these guys played, but after the first four games of the season CMU was 7-2; Purdue finished the season going 2-5. These two teams aren’t going in the same direction now that they were when they first met, so ignore the fact that Purdue won. The Chippewas can pull this out.