2012 Little Caesars - CMU 24, WKU 21

Posted Dec 27, 2012

2012-2013 Bowls - CFN's Preview & Prediction for the 2012 Little Caesars Pizza

2012 Little Caesars

Central Michigan vs. WKU

-   2012-2013 CFN Bowl Central

National Rankings
67th Total Offense 71st
94th Total Defense 23rd
64th Scoring Offense 66th
96th Scoring Defense 51st
73rd Rushing Offense 41st
98th Run Defense 33rd
53rd Passing Offense 91st
74th Passing Defense 31st
53rd Turnover Margin 62nd
Position Rankings
relative to each other
5 Highest - 1 Lowest
C   W
3 Quarterbacks 3
3.5 RBs 4
3 Receivers 3
4 O Line 3.5
1.5 D Line 4
2 Linebackers 4
2 Secondary 4
2 Spec Teams 3.5
3 Coaching 3
Central Michigan 24, Western Kentucky 21

(AP) DETROIT -- On this night, Dan Enos was fine with letting the other coach make the game's most important decision.

"I don't know what I would have done," Enos said. "But I will never second guess a coach for trying to win."

Enos and his Central Michigan Chippewas held on for a 24-21 victory over Western Kentucky on Wednesday night in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, stopping the Hilltoppers on fourth-and-2 in the final minute when a field goal could have sent the game to overtime.

Lance Guidry, coaching Western Kentucky on an interim basis with Bobby Petrino set to take over, went for the victory after his players made their feelings known on the matter.

"That was all the players. We were going to kick the field goal, but they told me that they were here to win the game," Guidry said. "I asked everyone and they wanted to go for it so we took the chance."

It didn't work out. On fourth down from the 19-yard line with 51 seconds left, Kawaun Jakes threw incomplete.

Ryan Radcliff had thrown an 11-yard touchdown pass to Cody Wilson with 5:11 remaining to give Central Michigan the lead.

"I couldn't have scripted it any better than my last catch being the winning TD in a bowl game," said Wilson, a senior who had 10 catches for 101 yards on the night.

Western Kentucky (7-6) fell just short in its first bowl since joining college football's top tier in 2009.

Radcliff went 19 of 29 for 253 yards and three touchdowns, but Central Michigan (7-6) needed to rally late.

"We knew we left a lot on the table in the first half, but we made a lot of those plays in the second half," said Enos, who was coaching his first bowl as Central Michigan's coach.

Down 21-17, Zurlon Tipton appeared to have put the Chippewas ahead in the fourth quarter, but his fourth-down run was ruled short of the goal line after a review.

"When we didn't get the touchdown, we knew we had to stop them right there," linebacker Shamari Benton said. "We knew that we just needed to give the offense one more shot."

Central Michigan forced the Hilltoppers to punt from their own end zone, and Avery Cunningham blocked it. Although the ball bounced around for a bit, the Chippewas finally secured it and took over with great field position inside the 30.

Radcliff found Wilson in the back left corner of the end zone for a 24-21 lead.

Western Kentucky's final drive ended when Jakes' pass intended for Jack Doyle fell incomplete.

Petrino, the Hilltoppers' coach-in-waiting, was expected to be at Ford Field watching his new team, but a snowstorm forced him to scrap those plans. Western Kentucky started aggressively.

Down 7-0, the Hilltoppers ran a flea-flicker on their first play from scrimmage, with Antonio Andrews running to his right, then tossing the ball back to Jakes, who found Rico Brown for a 70-yard gain.

Two plays later, Jakes scored on a 6-yard run to tie it.

Central Michigan answered with a 73-yard drive that ended with Andrew Flory's 29-yard touchdown reception, his second of the quarter.

The offenses settled down a bit for the rest of the quarter. Both teams were backed up by a pair of terrific punts. Hendrix Brakefield's 74-yarder pinned Central Michigan at its own 5, but Richie Hogan flipped the field position with a punt that sailed past Andrews and bounced back to the Western Kentucky 12. The 82-yard effort was returned only 4 yards.

David Harman's 50-yard field goal put the Chippewas up 17-7, but Jakes threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Doyle, with the tight end making a one-handed catch to pull Western Kentucky within three.

The TD pass was the 51st for Jakes, breaking a tie with Justin Haddix atop the school's career list.

Harman had a field goal blocked later in the half, and although the Chippewas were in range for another attempt in the final minute, Radcliff was sacked and fumbled. He was able to recover, but the last few seconds of the half ticked off.

Western Kentucky took a 21-17 lead in the third on a 1-yard scoring run by Kadeem Jones, which capped an 80-yard drive that used 9:23.

Andrews rushed for 119 yards, but he fell short of the 274 all-purpose yards he needed to break the single-season record of 3,250 set by Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders in 1988. Andrews, a junior, had 184 all-purpose yards to finish the season at 3,161.

"I fell short this year, but I'll be going for that record again next year," he said.

Central Michigan took a 7-0 lead on a 69-yard touchdown pass from Radcliff to Flory. Western Kentucky safety Jonathan Dowling whiffed on a tackle near midfield, and Flory was gone.

Dowling had a chance to make up for that mistake early in the third quarter, but with his team down 17-14, he dropped an interception near midfield that he could have easily returned for a touchdown.

Central Michigan (6-6) vs. Western Kentucky (7-5)
Dec. 26, 7:30, ESPN

Here's The Deal … Motivation won't be an issue.

Western Kentucky might be in a bit of a transitional period as it waits on the certain-to-be-brief Bobby Petrino era to get underway, but this is the program's first bowl game to mark the end of an interesting and speedy journey after a disastrous few seasons.

After moving up into the FBS level in 2007, WKU beat Middle Tennessee early on, but then went from September 20th, 2007 to October 23rd, 2010 – a span of 38 games – without beating an FBS team. 0-12 in 2009 and 2-10 in 2010, WKU went through the growing pains of rebuilding the team under the guidance of one of the brightest young head coaches in the game, Willie Taggart, who came over from Stanford after making Toby Gerhart and the Cardinal running game shine. With a 7-5 and 2011 and a solid 2012, Taggart made the next step accepting the South Florida job, taking over for the fired Skip Holtz. Defensive coordinator Lance Guidry will fill in the gap until Petrino arrives, and he should be able keep the momentum going having coached Miami University to a 2011 GoDaddy.com win over Middle Tennessee after Mike Haywood left to take over the Pitt job.

The Hilltoppers are coming in limping after losing two of their final five games after starting out 5-1 – with the lone loss coming to Alabama – but the defense is terrific, the offense can run, and again, the team should care in its first ever post-season game.

Central Michigan is back in a bowl after struggling for a few seasons following the terrific run under Brian Kelly and Butch Jones. Head coach Dan Enos has had to completely rebuild and reload the program that dominated for a four season stretch with QB Dan LeFevour leading the way to four straight bowl games. The days of being the powerhouse of the MAC are gone, but Enos is slowly turning things back around after a rocky start and a 2-5 beginning to this year, winning four of the last five games to get the program to its seventh bowl appearance.

Formerly the Motor City Bowl, the Little Caesars has been wildly entertaining over the last five seasons with each one decided by five points or fewer. From Purdue's 37-32 win over Western Michigan last year, to FIU's wild 34-32 victory over Toledo in 2010 and Purdue's 51-48 victory over Central Michigan in 2007, this perennially has been among the season's best bowl games. Considering CMU's last bowl game was the best of the 2009-2010 season – a double-overtime 44-41 thriller over Troy in the GMAC, and with their last three bowls decided by a grand total of nine points, this should be an entertaining game.

Players to Watch: Western Kentucky and Willie Taggart have revolved their teams around the running back, and Antonio Andrews has filled the bill in all areas leading the nation in all-purpose yards averaging 248 yards per game as a top kick and punt returner as well as a runner. A workhorse and a slippery 6-0 and 194 pounds, he can do a little of everything, including receiving, but he has been as his best on the ground over the last few games running for 238 yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries in the loss to Louisiana-Lafayette, and running for 230 yards and a touchdown in the win over North Texas to finish the regular season with 1,609 yards and 11 scores, to go along with 34 catches and three touchdowns.

Central Michigan has a terrific workhorse back of its own in Zurlon Tipton, a tough runner who ripped off seven straight 100-yard games including a 243-yard, three-score day against Akron to help spark the run to the bowl. While he's not quite the receiver that Andrews is, he can be used in a variety of ways, including as a safety-valve for a passing attack efficient and effective enough to balance out the offense.

Trying to get to Tipton and into the CMU backfield on a regular basis is WKU senior Quanterus Smith, the nation's leader in sacks with 12.5, helped by cranking out five against FIU, to go along with 18.5 tackles for loss and a 75-yard fumble return for a score. The 6-5, 246-pounder is a hybrid of a pass rusher and not just a specialist with a tremendous burst off the ball and decent toughness against the run. This is his final showcase game for the pros.

Central Michigan will win if … it gets the running game going. CMU is 4-1 when getting two or more rushing scores with the lone loss coming in the wild shootout against Western Michigan. With Tipton, the improvement in the running game turned out to be one of the biggest sparks for the second half of the year, while going 0-4 when putting up 107 yards or fewer. On the other side, WKU's slide coincided with problems against the run getting ripped up for 324 yards and three touchdowns to ULL and giving up two rushing scores or more in each of the last three games and five times on the year.

One of CMU's biggest weaknesses has been the punting game with little coming from the returners and nothing happening to get the offense out of jams, but WKU is even worse at kicking the ball averaging a paltry 34.5 yards per boot. This should be a tight game with field position playing a big role, so …

Western Kentucky will win if … Andrews makes a big difference as a returner. No, the Hilltoppers can't punt, but Andrews is a devastating returner averaging 12.8 yards per punt return and 28 yards per kickoff return. CMU isn't too bad at holding up on kickoffs, but it's 118th in the nation at covering punts allowing 12.76 yards per try and a score – Andrews should break off at least one big play.

Defensively, Smith and the Hilltopper front will get into the backfield against a shaky CMU offensive line. Yes, the Chippewas have been able to pound away over the second half of the season, but that's partly because they've gone against a who's who of weak run defenses. CMU doesn't generate much pressure with little pass rush and few plays behind the line, while WKU is 12th in the nation in tackles for loss and have come up with a Sun Belt-leading 31 sacks on the season. The Hilltoppers can dial it up for a big defensive stop; CMU can't.

What Will Happen: Will the coaching change matter for Western Kentucky? Will the home cooking give Central Michigan any sort of an advantage? CMU is coming in hot and WKU is coming in cold, and while the Hilltoppers lost to Florida Atlantic at home and hasn't been playing all that well, the defensive pressure is still going to come to bother the Chippewa backfield. Yes, CMU looked great over the final month, but playing Akron, Eastern Michigan, Miami University and UMass helped. WKU will run without a problem, but it'll still be a fight down to the finish thanks to a nice day from Tipton.

CFN Prediction: Western Kentucky 31 … Central Michigan 24
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) Western Kentucky -5.5 O/U: 60
Little Caesars (formerly the Motor City) Bowl History

2011 Purdue 37, Western Michigan 32
2010 FIU 34, Toledo 32
2009 Marshall 21, Ohio 17
2008 Florida Atlantic 24, Central Mich, 21
2007 Purdue 51, Central Mich 48
2006 C. Michigan 31, Middle Tenn 14
2005 Memphis 38, Akron 31
2004 Connecticut 39, Toledo 10
2003 Bo. Green 28, Northwestern 24
2002 Boston College 51, Toledo 25
2001Toledo 23, Cincinnati 16
2000 Marshall 25, Cincinnati 14
1999 Marshall 21, BYU 3
1998 Marshall 48, Louisville 29
1997 Ole Miss 34, Marshall 31