Detroit, MI (Sports Network) - Just two weeks after hiring Bobby Petrino as
head coach, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers will take part in the Little
Caesars Pizza Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit against the Central Michigan
On Dec. 10 it was announced that Petrino, the former Arkansas head coach,
would be taking over for Western Kentucky following this season. Petrino is
75-26 all-time as a head coach but was fired from Arkansas last summer after a
scandal involving an Arkansas staff member. However in this game it will be
defensive coordinator Lance Guidry who will serve as interim head coach for
the departing Willie Taggart.
Under Taggart, Western Kentucky posted a record of 7-5, which gave the
Hilltoppers their second straight seven-win season after the team managed only
four total wins in the previous three years. The Hilltoppers stumbled down the
stretch to get there with losses in three straight before a 25-24 win over
North Texas in the regular-season finale. Even more importantly, Western
Kentucky is playing in its first bowl game ever since moving to the FBS level
"We're just excited," Western Kentucky tight end Jack Doyle said. "You can
feel the energy around here about going to this program's first bowl game as a
Division I member. It's just an exciting time and (we're) excited to get it
As for Central Michigan, the Chippewas needed to wait until the final game of
the season to earn their bowl bid. The Chippewas were just 3-6 with three
games remaining but managed to pull out three straight wins, two coming on the
road, to earn the six victories necessary for bowl eligibility. With the win
at UMass to end the regular season, the Chippewas earned their first bowl bid
since 2009 and seventh overall. This is also the fifth bowl game in the last
seven seasons for Central Michigan. In those previous contests the Chippewas
have a 2-4 record with the most recent decision a 44-41 win over Troy in the
GMAC Bowl, which is now the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
This will not just be the first bowl game for Western Kentucky but also the
first time the Hilltoppers have ever squared off with Central Michigan on the
Despite being a mediocre offensive team this season, Western Kentucky did have
one of the best offensive weapons in the country in running back Antonio
Andrews. The All-Sun Belt First Team member had a spectacular season both on
the ground and through the air. Andrews finished the regular season with 2,977
all-purpose yards which is the third best single-season mark in Division I
history and only 273 yards behind the all-time mark set by Barry Sanders in
1988. The all-purpose yards mark also broke the Sun Belt Conference's record
by more than 300 yards. Andrews got the bulk of his work done on the ground
(1,609 yards, 11 touchdowns) but also hauled in 34 passes for 411 yards and
"We looked at it. We have another good ball club. They have some good
linebackers, d-line, safeties and I know they have a good d-coordinator. So
we're going to have to come out here and do what we do," Andrews said of
Central Michigan while asserting how ready he is to play. "(The) week off I
was able to catch my legs. I feel refreshed and ready to go. I feel like it's
Even with Andrews the Hilltoppers still ranked near the middle of the Sun Belt
in scoring (28.8 ppg, fifth) and total offense (392.3 ypg, sixth).
Kawaun Jakes is the man under center. Jakes was efficient this season,
completing 64.6 percent of his passes, while throwing for 21 touchdowns and 11
Doyle (47 receptions, 530 yards, 4 TDs) and Willie McNeal (40 receptions, 506
yards, 6 TDs) are the top pass catching threats for Western Kentucky, and
along with Andrews the only players with more than 13 receptions this year.
Western Kentucky had much more star power on defense and was markedly better
on that side of the ball in 2012. The Hilltoppers were the best team in their
conference in terms of total yards allowed (342.8 ypg), while ranking second
in scoring defense (25.6 ppg). The key was how well Western Kentucky got
upfield and made plays, leading the Sun Belt in tackles for loss (90) and
One of three First-Team All-Sun Belt selections on the unit, Andrew Jackson
(116 tackles, 15.7 TFLs) is definitely the leader, after totaling the second
most tackles, and the most solo stops (78) in the conference. Jackson's
leadership role is even more pronounced with the loss of Sun Belt Defensive
Player of the Year Quanterus Smith. Smith suffered a knee injury at the end of
November, which ended his campaign. Safety Jonathan Dowling (60 tackles, six
INTs) also earned all-conference honors.
Like Western Kentucky, Central Michigan wasn't anything special when it came
to overall offensive numbers. The Hilltoppers ranked seventh in the Mid-
American Conference in total yards (394.1 ypg) and tied for sixth in scoring
offense (29.3 ppg). Central Michigan did excel when it managed to get drives
into the red zone, converting on a MAC-leading 88.89 percent of its attempts.
Ryan Radcliff is the signal caller for the Chippewas. Radcliff didn't complete
an extremely high percentage of his pass attempts (59.0), but did throw for
2,905 yards and 20 touchdowns with only nine interceptions. Radcliff threw for
the fifth most yards per game in the MAC (242.1) and was the fourth highest
rated passer (136.3).
In the running game, Zurlon Tipton has been the workhorse for the Chippewas.
Tipton has piled up 1,391 yards on 229 carries. No other player on the team
has more than 53 carries for 235 yards. Tipton was one of six players in the
MAC to average more than 100 rushing yards per game and tied with Northern
Illinois' quarterback Jordan Lynch for the most rushing touchdowns (19) in the
conference. Tipton was an obvious selection for the First-Team All-MAC team. A
Detroit native, Tipton is obviously excited to come back and play in his home
"I am excited to be able to come back to my hometown to play in this game,"
Tipton said. "It is going to be fun to play in front of so many of our fans
and I expect it is going to be a great game."
Another offensive player to watch for on an individual level is wide receiver
Titus Davis (43 receptions, 806 yards, 8 TDs). For his efforts in 2012 Davis
earned First-Team All-MAC honors. While his numbers are not eye-popping, Cody
Wilson (64 receptions, 739 yards, 2 TDs), turned in a strong season as well,
picking up Second-Team All-MAC honors for the second straight year, while
ranking 10th in the conference in receptions.
CMU was bolstered by an offensive line headlined by Third-Team All-American
Eric Fisher at tackle. Fisher was also tabbed a First-Team All-MAC selection.
On defense Central Michigan was rather pedestrian in comparison to the rest of
the conference. The Chippewas were the seventh best team in the MAC in yards
allowed (441.2 ypg) and ninth in scoring defense (33.3 ppg). While the offense
constantly found success in the red zone the defense was almost always giving
up scores, with the 11th best opponent conversion rate (86.8 percent) in the
conference. Central Michigan also failed to get much in terms of negative
plays with the fewest tackles for loss (47.0) in the MAC.
Senior safety Jahleel Addae (81 tackles, 7.0 TFLs, 4 INTs) was the lone
defender to earn All-MAC honors as he was named to the First Team. Justin
Cherocci (124 tackles) and Shamari Benton (117 tackles) each had large
tackle totals but managed only four tackles for loss combined. Caesar
Rodriguez (four sacks) was the best pass rusher on a team that failed to get
consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
The Sports Network