Hustle Belt: Western Kentucky is 7-5 on the season coming into the Bahamas Bowl, as is Central. Most CMU fans probably haven't kept up on WKU football, so could you tell me if you can a sort of plot summary of the season?
Andrew Thomas: 2014 for the Hilltoppers has consisted of the expectedly unexpected: blowing out the 2013 MAC Champions (Bowling Green) to start the season, giving the game away at Illinois, and some fun conference action that included a triple-overtime loss to Middle Tennessee and second-half collapses in losses to Florida Atlantic and UAB. Although WKU had a rough patch early in conference play, they won their last three conference games that included a 67-66 overtime win against previously undefeated Marshall.
HB: Like you just said, ya'll plopped 67 on Marshall in the final game of the season, spoiling the Herd's chance at a perfect season. 1) Is it a program-building win? and 2) was WKU's performance in that game indicative of their usual style of gameplay?
AT: When you've only been a member of the FBS since 2008--and in your inaugural season in Conference USA--every win builds your program. With three coaching changes in the last three years, I think Western Kentucky's progression in their football program has slowed a bit; the Hilltoppers finished 7-5 in 2012, 8-4 in 2013, and are currently 7-5 this season.
WKU's performance against Marshall was undoubtedly characteristic of what they've been all season: an explosive offense and not much else. Although (in my mind) the win at Marshall wasn't near as important as their FCS Championship in 2002, it was certainly their most impressive win (on paper) as a member of the FBS.
HB: Coach Jeff Brohm is the heir to Bobby Petrino, if I recall. How has the team dynamic changed with Petrino gone?
AT: Jeff Brohm's coaching style often seems to mirror that of Petrino's, which makes sense when you consider their years of experience with one another at programs like the University of Louisville and Western Kentucky. Brohm's offense in his first season as head coach is far better statistically; I'm not quite sure if that is because of the coaching change, quarterback Brandon Doughty having another year to learn the offense, or a mix of both. I will say, however, that the mood this season in the locker room and among the players seems to be much more vibrant and outgoing than when Petrino was at the helm.
HB: Who are players to look out for on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball?
AT: Offensively, where do we begin? Western Kentucky has been an offensive monster this season: averaging 44 points and 365 passing yards per contest. Their leader, senior quarterback Brandon Doughty (who was just granted a sixth-year of eligibility), has thrown for over 4,000 yards while spreading the wealth to a cast of receivers that is highlighted by the 6'3" junior Jared Dangerfield. Dangerfield, in his first season with Western Kentucky, has 64 receptions for 738 yards and ten touchdowns.
When the pass isn't working, Jeff Brohm has given the rock to junior running back Leon Allen; Allen has twelve rushing touchdowns this season and is averaging nearly six yards per carry.
Defensively, WKU has been a mess for the most part. They're giving up almost 40 points per game and haven't had much success with the exceptions of their wins over Army and UTSA. If there is one player to watch out for, I think it's junior defensive back Wonderful Terry. Terry has two interceptions-for-touchdowns that have come at crucial moments this season, and will be continue to be relied on by defensive coordinator Nick Holt.
HB: Which players from Central Michigan are you most nervous about as a Hilltopper fan?
AT: Wide receiver Titus Davis. With 843 receiving yards and nine touchdowns, he could potentially be the Hilltoppers' worst nightmare. Although Central Michigan hasn't really been explosive through the air this season, that could change in a hurry if the Hilltopper defense lets Titus Davis get too involved.
HB: How do you think this game will go down? Give me a final score if you're feeling froggy.
AT: Central Michigan's low-scoring offense makes me think Doughty and company should have no problem out-scoring Titus Davis and company if they can get past a solid Chippewas defense. With only one team holding WKU to less than 34 points this season, I like my chances if I'm Jeff Brohm.
WKU 45 CMU 31
Andrew Thomas: Central Michigan head coach Dan Enos is quite familiar with Western Kentucky; his Chippewas squad defeated them two years ago in the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl. Although this is a different Hilltopper squad in many ways, are CMU fans and players excited to face off against some of the same players they saw in 2012?
Hustle Belt: The players are certainly excited for this rematch. A lot of the players that are starting now weren't starters in 2012, so they're very eager to have their chance against the Hilltoppers (and I imagine that the converse is true for WKU.) I know I am excited to see a match between one of the C*USA's premier offenses vs. the MAC's best defense. As for the fans here in Mt. Pleasant? Frankly, they're mostly disappointed with a rematch. They are also discouraged that the bowl isn't in Detroit (for obvious reasons) and finally, they are not overly optimistic about CMU's chances this time around. The last game, CMU only won on a last-minute goal line stand ahead by two. A lot of projections have CMU as dogs by at least a touchdown and a half. To be honest, most CMU fans are not excited for this game, and believe we will be blown out by approximately a million billion points. It's a very touchy fan base. I believe that if CMU would have been selected for the Quick Lane Bowl vs. Rutgers or UNC, they would be a hell of a lot more excited this bowl season.
AT: When Titus Davis is going, the Chippewas offense seems to be going. Can you talk about the impact he's had during his career, and this season in particular?
HB: His name is mentioned in the same breath of all-time greats at CMU with Dan LeFevour, Ontario Sneed, and Antonio Brown, so his impact at CMU is immense. Davis is the only player in NCAA history to average at least 8 TD's a season over four years, and that's despite being on the receiving ends of passes from the school's all time-interceptions leader Ryan Radcliffe and game-manager Cooper Rush. Davis will be sorely missed next season, and many fans are concerned about the state of CMU football after his departure. When he has been on the field this season, he has been an invaluable asset to the offense as a vocal leader, and has been especially helpful to Rush's development as a QB. He is a legit NFL prospect, and I would not be surprised to see him making plays as a 3rd receiver on Sundays.
AT Central Michigan, not unlike WKU, has ended up with around a 7-5 record for the past few seasons. In your eyes, should Central Michigan (as a program) be any better than it is right now? I know Dan Enos has been at CMU for a few seasons now.
HB: I've been a pretty vocal minority in saying that considering CMU's entire situation this season, between legal troubles for their start transfer running back Thomas Rawls and injury troubles for Davis, that their performance was admirable this season. I predicted 8-4 this season, so 7-5 is pretty close, and certainly better than 6-6 with no bowl last season. That being said, they shouldn't lose a game to Kansas on the road while only giving up 89 passing yards, or a game to Ball State at home where they outgained the Cardinals by 200+ yards after a road win vs. MAC champions NIU. Even if they were affected by key injuries and suspensions, those two games especially highlight fans' frustrations with the Enos regime. Fans will say that Central Michigan should be better as a football program; after all, we had 5 All-MAC First-Teamers, and 8 All-MAC selections overall. The individual talent is there. But there's just something missing there, and many fans will say that missing thing is a good coach. This bowl game might determine his fate in Mt. Pleasant.
AT: What do you expect the Chippewas defense to do against arguably the most explosive offense they've seen all year?
HB: They'll certainly have their hands full. The most explosive passing offense they faced this season was Toledo, and that didn't go very well, as CMU gave up 339 yards passing and 543 yards overall on offense, although it should be noted that Titus Davis was coming off his first game since Week 1 due to injury, and Thomas Rawls was coming off his suspension. The defense's specialty is rushing defense, with an NFL prospect and a couple of up-and-comers (who I will talk about in a second) on the line, so expect the Chippewas to place pressure on the quarterback and try and force the pass. If it comes down to that, there are some ballhawks in the secondary that will be chomping at the bit, seeing as CMU runs the 4-2-5 defense. CMU's defense was best in the conference, so it will be interesting to see how they hold up.
AT: Who are the impact players on both sides of the ball?
HB: On offense, it's Davis, Rawls, and Rush. Together, they made up for over 50% of the Chippewa's total yards on offense. Rawls, who had over 1100 yards despite missing a good chunk of the season, must establish enough of a running threat in order to open up the field for Davis. As soon as Davis gets hot, that opens up the offense for the rest of the players, and allows Rush to be more creative and spread the ball more evenly. The Hilltoppers must get rid of Rush's top options and force him to make bad decisions with less talented players.
On defense, Leterrius Walton, first team All-MAC, is the leader of an intense defensive line, which includes Jabari Dean and Joel Ostman, a fellow All-MAC selection. Walton, who has gained the attention of some NFL scouts this season, is backed by linebacker Justin Cherocci, who once again gained 100+ tackles in the season, as well as Tony Annesse (playing Jahleel Addae's old Joker position) and Brandon Greer in the secondary, who have combined for 6 interceptions on the season.
AT: Pick 'Em!
HB: I'm surprised CMU is such a dog, but then, there seems to be a MAC stigma when it comes to this sorta thing... Anyway, if the Chips can get started quick on offense and gain a few stops on defense, they can control the tempo from there. In the end, CMU will conjure up some Pizza Bowl magic (#RIPPizzaBowl) and edge the Hilltoppers 35-34.
Thanks to Andrew Thomas and Underdog Dynasty for helping us out with this Q&A. Andrew can be followed on Twitter @AndrewGThomas, while Underdog Dynasty can be followed @UnderdogDynasty.