DETROIT — Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit was thrilled after he found out his team would be playing in a bowl close to home.
The Broncos don’t even have to leave the state to play in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl on Tuesday against Purdue at Detroit’s Ford Field.
“It’s a perfect situation for us as a university,” Cubit said. “Our alumni can get to the game. Our student body can get to the game. Our fans will be able to travel, a lot more families can be at the game than if we went somewhere else.”
If last weekend was any indication, Cubit can expect a friendly reception. A contingent from Purdue’s team was shown taking in Saturday’s Lions-Chargers game at Ford Field and greeted with plenty of boos. Then a group from Western Michigan was introduced to loud cheers.
Still, the Broncos (7-5) will need more than supportive fans to beat Purdue. Western Michigan hasn’t beaten a Big Ten team since 2008, although the Broncos did play Illinois tough in a 23-20 defeat in September.
Purdue is returning to a bowl for the first time since 2007, when the Boilermakers beat Central Michigan 51-48 in this same bowl. Another shootout is certainly possible. Western Michigan has scored at least 38 points seven times this season, including a 66-63 loss to Toledo last month.
“Looking at Western Michigan on film, they can score some points,” Purdue coach Danny Hope said. “They’re obviously on the cutting edge of the spread offense. It’s very similar to what we ran at Purdue when I coached there before, and we had Drew Brees. … It’s very similar in a lot of ways — the play calling, the styles, the protections. They’re a high-scoring football team, so we’d better be ready to score some points.”
Hope is in his third season at the helm for the Boilermakers (6-6) and is taking them to a bowl for the first time. He was rewarded recently with a two-year contract extension through the end of 2016.
Purdue won two of its last three regular-season games, including a victory over Ohio State, to become bowl eligible.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for our football team to take another step in our development,” Hope said earlier this month. “I hope and anticipate we’ll play the best game we’ve played all year.”
Western Michigan is led by wide receiver Jordan White, a third-team All-American who has 127 catches for 1,646 yards and 16 touchdowns on the season. Although he’s played in relative obscurity in the Mid-American Conference, this will be a chance for White to shine on a bigger stage.
“We played Michigan and we played Illinois, and we really should have won down there at Illinois. Unfortunately, we came up short down there,” White said. “Everybody’s happy with where we’re at. When we have that kind of confidence, we can take down big-time teams.”
Purdue, however, will look at this matchup as a challenge. Cornerback Ricardo Allen and the rest of the defensive backfield will try to stop White. Hope said defensive backs Taylor Richards and Landon Feichter could play more than usual because of Western Michigan’s offensive style.
On offense, Caleb TerBush has handled most of the passing this season for the Boilermakers. Third on the depth chart at the beginning of the season, he earned Hope’s confidence as the two players ahead of him recovered from injuries.
“He has done a fantastic job,” Hope said. “He’s really grown and developed through the course of the season.”