Here's a look at three keys for Purdue during Tuesday's Little Caesars Pizza Bowl matchup against Western Michigan in Detroit.
1. Establish the run without Bolden: Boilers leading rusher Ralph Bolden is out (torn ACL), but the team has other backs capable of attacking a Western Michigan defense ranked 107th nationally against the run. Akeem Shavers will be Purdue's primary ball carrier, and Jared Crank and Reggie Pegram also should get some touches. Purdue needs to take the pressure off of its quarterbacks and consistently move the chains against the Broncos. One potential problem area is the red zone, where Western Michigan plays its best defense (sixth nationally at 70 percent scoring conversions). Purdue has scored touchdowns on 30 of its 47 red zone opportunities, so the Bolden-less backfield must cash in when opportunities arise.
2. Contain Jordan White: The Western Michigan senior receiver leads the nation in both receptions per game (10.58) and receiving yards per game (137.2). White will be a factor, and quarterback Alex Carder will get him the ball, but Purdue must prevent the Broncos star from taking over the game. Boilers sophomore cornerback Ricardo Allen has covered several other standout receivers this season -- Notre Dame's Michael Floyd, Iowa's Marvin McNutt and Illinois' A.J. Jenkins among them -- and will be assigned to White for most of the game. Allen's aggressive style could result in big plays for Purdue or for Western Michigan, but he's the type of corner you want against a talent like White.
3. Gain the edge on special teams: Purdue's season has been largely defined by special-teams plays, both the good and the bad. A blocked kick has both cost Purdue a chance at victory (against Rice) and preserved a chance for an eventual win (against Ohio State). The Boilers need strong performances from specialists Carson Wiggs and Cody Webster in kicker-friendly Ford Field, and they must avoid breakdowns against Western Michigan, which has been solid on both punt returns and kick returns this season. If Wiggs converts some lengthy field goals, Webster puts Western Michigan in tough field-position situations and Raheem Mostert breaks off a long return or two, Purdue will be in good shape in what should be a close game.