Purdue Vs. Western Michigan, Pizza! Pizza! Bowl 2011: Receivers As Workhorse Backs

ANN ARBOR, MI - SEPTEMBER 03: Alex Carder #14 of the Western Michigan Broncos throws a first quarter pass while playing the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium on September 3, 2010 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Purdue cannot stop the pass, and Western Michigan only occasionally tries to run. Can the Boilermakers keep up if Jordan White and company get rolling?

NOTE: Confused? See the quick glossary at the bottom.

A rock solid, exciting MAC program takes on a "Wait, they're bowl eligible?" team from an entrenched, major conference. This is certainly not one of the most exciting games on the bowl docket, but if MACtion is involved (and with WMU, the odds are good), you may want to stay tuned just in case something crazy happens.

Team Record AP Rank 2011 F/+ Rk 2011 Off.
F/+ Rk
2011 Def.
F/+ Rk
2011 S.T.
F/+ Rk
Purdue 6-6 NR 76 82 76 21
Western Michigan 7-5 NR 48 36 82 5
Team Pace Rk Covariance Rk MACtion Rk Schizophrenia Rk
Purdue 49 18 94 26
Western Michigan 54 15 23 22

In one way, Purdue was exactly what they were supposed to be this season. They were projected to rank 76th in the Football Outsiders Almanac 2011, and they indeed ranked 76th. Only, they were also supposed to finish 4-8; that they managed to win six games despite losing to Rice is certainly an accomplishment, but it probably says more about others than it does about Purdue. It speaks to just how bad Minnesota and Indiana were this year, it speaks to just how far (and sudden) Illinois' fall from grace was after a 6-0 start.

And honestly, it speaks to the craziness of college football -- Ohio State came to West Lafayette riding a three-game winning streak, lost to Purdue, and finished the season with a three-game losing streak. Purdue was spectacularly mediocre, with a slightly below-average ranking (on both offense and defense), a slightly below-average point differential (313 points scored, 317 points allowed), and only one true star (defensive tackle Kawann Short). But here they are, playing for all the free pizza they want. (That's a prize for winning, right? Right? And should free Little Caesars pizza actually be considered a prize?)

When Purdue Has The Ball…

Team F/+
Rk
S&P+
Rk
FEI
Rk
Success
Rt+ Rk
PPP+
Rk
Rushing
S&P+ Rk
Passing
S&P+ Rk
Purdue Offense 82 84 76 89 80 76 91
Western Michigan Defense 82 84 102 87 93 104 79
Team Std. Downs
Run %
S.D.
S&P+ Rk
Pass. Downs
Run %
P.D.
S&P+ Rk
Purdue Offense 63.4% 67 32.8% 61
Western Michigan Defense 58.4% 89 28.0% 102
National Average 69.1% 30.9%

Movable force, resistable object, etc. The Purdue offense and Western Michigan defense were almost mirror images of each other, identically below average in most categories. It would seem as if Purdue can derive a defined advantage when they have the ball, it will likely come on the ground.

Unfortunately, 17th-year junior Ralph Bolden suffered the 12th ACL tear of his career against Indiana and will miss the game; the brunt of the carries, then, will go to Akeem Shavers (370 yards, plus-4.9 Adj. POE) and Akeem Hunt (28 carries, 241 yards, plus-4.8 Adj. POE). They are more explosive than Bolden, but far less consistent. Overall, Bolden and Shavers formed the majority of the Purdue run game, but really, anybody might get a carry from anywhere. Quarterback Caleb TerBush has 80 carries, Hunt 29, receiver Antavian Edison 27, Jared Crank 26, etc. What they have lacked in true quality, they try to make up for in variety.

The two main cogs in the passing game, meanwhile, are Justin Siller (74 targets, 45 catches, 441 yards) and Edison (70 targets, 43 catches, 561 yards). Edison was a tremendous big-play threat to start the season -- 13 catches for 242 yards in the first four games -- but that trailed off quite a bit. TerBush has posted decent numbers for the season (1,804 yards, 62-percent completion rate, 12 touchdowns, six interceptions), but he will struggle to get the job done if Purdue is unable to run the ball.

The Western Michigan defense is a bit all-or-nothing, especially up front. The line is a bit of a sieve against the run (95th in Adj. Line Yards) but makes its share of big plays. Tackle Drew Nowak registered 59.0 tackles and 20 tackles for loss in 2011, and end Freddie Bishop threw in 33.5 tackles and 12.0 tackles for loss. The Broncos are aggressive if often unsuccessful; what else can you expect? They fit the "MACtion" defensive template to a T. They will make their share of big plays, and once they have you leveraged into an uncomfortable down and distance, they will let you off the hook with flair and panache. They will likely do so against Purdue as well, but if they can limit their damage to 20-yard gains instead of 60, it is unclear whether Purdue is consistent enough to sustain drives without Bolden.

When Western Michigan Has The Ball…

Team F/+
Rk
S&P+
Rk
FEI
Rk
Success
Rt+ Rk
PPP+
Rk
Rushing
S&P+ Rk
Passing
S&P+ Rk
Western Michigan Offense 36 20 46 28 36 62 36
Purdue Defense 76 79 82 90 74 59 94
Team Std. Downs
Run %
S.D.
S&P+ Rk
Pass. Downs
Run %
P.D.
S&P+ Rk
Western Michigan Offense 47.6% 44 21.8% 43
Purdue Defense 66.4% 77 36.1% 47
National Average 69.1% 30.9%

Not including special teams -- and for what it's worth, both teams have lovely special teams units that could play key roles -- there is only one truly strong unit in this game: Western Michigan's offense. They are efficient, they have big-play potential, and they can run just well enough to throw you off of Jordan White's scent. White, a receiver, is the workhorse back of the offense; he was targeted with 186 passes in 2011, easily the most in the country. In fact, only two other players (Rutgers' Mohamed Sanu and USC's Robert Woods) were over 150. That he was able to catch a healthy 127 passes (68-percent catch rate) and average 13 yards per catch makes it even more impressive. (For instance, Sanu only had a 65-percent catch rate and averaged just 10.5 yards per catch.) Western Michigan is really interesting in that they constantly go to White on passing downs -- his 116 standard downs targets are almost more than the next three WMU receivers combined (120) -- then spread the love on passing downs. He is Option No. 1 and No. 2 in this offense, though quarterback Alex Carder and running back Tevin Drake will split about 16 carries per game, and receivers Robert Arnheim and Chleb Ravenell will get their touches as well.

Western Michigan will pass a lot on Purdue, which is alarming considering how poor the Boilermakers were at defending the pass. Cornerbacks Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson combined to either intercept or break up 16 passes, but let's just say that the fact that they split 117.5 tackles is telling. Purdue attempts to attack you from all directions (Allen and Johnson combined for 7.5 tackles for loss), but they really only succeed at attacking you from the middle. Tackle Kawann Short (17.0 tackles for loss) and Bruce Gaston (7.0 tackles for loss) are two of the better play-makers in the country from the tackle position, and Purdue has actually put together decent line stats (36th in Adj. Line Yards, 71st in Adj. Sack Rate). The problem comes when a tackle doesn't make a play.

The Verdict

Western Michigan by 8.6.

Purdue is currently a three-point favorite in this one, but let's just say that the advanced stats see things differently. Unless Purdue's defensive line can consistently cave in the interior of Western Michigan's offensive line, it is difficult to see the Boilers stopping the Broncos too much. That will put a lot of pressure on Caleb TerBush to hold serve on Purdue's possessions, and ... that does not instill me with confidence in Purdue's chances.

--------------------

A Quick Glossary

Covariance: This tells us whether a team tends to play up or down to their level of competition. A higher ranking means a team was more likely to play well against bad teams while struggling (relatively speaking) against good ones. (So in a way, lower rankings are better.) For more, go here.

F/+ Rankings: The official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.

MACtion: This is a look at how closely teams are associated with big-play football (like those high-scoring, mid-week MAC games). Teams that rank high on the MACtion scale play games with a ton of both big plays (gained and allowed) and passing downs. For more, go here.

Pace: This is calculated by going beyond simply who runs the most plays. Teams that pass more are naturally inclined to run more plays (since there are more clock stoppages involved), so what we do here is project how many plays a team would typically be expected to run given their run-pass ratio, then compare their actual plays to expectations. Teams, then, are ranked in order from the most plays above the expected pace, to the least.

Passing Downs: Second-and-7 or more, third-and-5 or more.

PPP: An explosiveness measure derived from determining the point value of every yard line (based on the expected number of points an offense could expect to score from that yard line) and, therefore, every play of a given game.

S&P+: Think of this as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rates, a common Football Outsiders efficiency measure that basically serves as on-base percentage. The 'P' stands for PPP+, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. The "+" means it has been adjusted for the level of opponent, obviously a key to any good measure in college football. S&P+ is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter. For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders.

Schizophrenia: This measures how steady a team's performances are throughout the course of a full season. Teams with a higher ranking tend to be extremely unpredictable from week to week. For more, go here.

Standard Downs: First downs, second-and-6 or less, third-and-4 or less.

Success Rate: A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

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