Central Michigan faces prolific Western Kentucky attack
Mount Pleasant — Dan Enos was rewarded with a trip to Hawaii to play in the Aloha Bowl 25 years ago as quarterback of the Michigan State Spartans.
Now, Enos' players will be making a trip of a lifetime themselves to the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, where Central Michigan plays Western Kentucky on Christmas Eve.
The Chippewas are staying at the famed Atlantis resort for several days before taking the field in the inaugural bowl game in Nassau, getting the chance to swim with dolphins and taking in some sunshine during the holiday season.
"I've never been out of the country so it's going to be great," said CMU senior offensive lineman Andy Phillips, a first-team all-Mid-American Conference performer.
The same can be said for Chippewas junior defensive back Kavon Frazier, who admitted he is a little bit afraid of flying.
"I've never been out of the country so I'm really looking forward to it," Frazier said.
But don't forget the reason why the Chips made the road trip. They will have to get serious when they take the field against the nation's top passing attack.
Western Kentucky senior Brandon Doughty has picked apart opponents all season, leading the nation in passing yards (4,344) and touchdown passes (44) while completing 67.5 percent of his passes.
Doughty, who will be facing a CMU defense which ranks 17th nationally in total defense, opened the season with a 46-of-56 effort for a Conference USA record 569 yards and six TDs without an interception in a 59-31 rout of MAC East champion Bowling Green.
Still, Doughty's most impressive performance could have been his 34-of-50 effort for 491 yards and a conference-record eight TDs to end No. 24 Marshall's chance of an unbeaten season Nov. 28, 67-66 in overtime.
Enos has said all along the best way to beat Western Kentucky is to keep its offense off the field, and he believes his team has the offensive line and running backs to consistently pick up first downs. But Thomas Rawls, who led the team with 1,103 yards rushing, will not be playing because of an academic issue.
Phillips was a starter on a CMU team which defeated Western Kentucky, 24-21, two years ago in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl at Ford Field.
"I'm sure they want another shot at us," Phillips said. "That was my first taste of it (playing in a bowl game). It was the most intense game I've been a part of to this day and it went right down to the wire.
"I know that their offense is capable of putting ups some points, so from an offensive standpoint we're going to have to control the ball. If you're running the ball, you can control the clock. Our job as an offense is to keep them off the field."
Phillips feels good about an offense which includes junior Saylor Lavallii and true freshman Devon Spalding from Westland John Glenn who earned a spot on The Detroit News Dream Team his senior year.
Spalding had consecutive 100-yard games late in the season in wins over Eastern Michigan and Miami (Ohio), rushing for 154 yards and two touchdowns against EMU, including a 42-yard score, then 147 yards and two TDs against Miami, including a 51-yard run.
"Devon Spalding's like a sparkplug," Phillips said. "He came in here and since Day 1 kept his mouth shut and worked hard. None of us knew anything about him. He just had a little spark to him. He goes out there and has very good vision for a young guy. He has breakaway speed, too, so he's the complete package."
Still, the Chips can't count on just holding on to the ball. CMU's defense has to come up with some stops against the pass-happy Hilltoppers.
"They have a really good quarterback who has put up some crazy numbers," said CMU sophomore defensive back Tony Annese, who is second on the team in tackles (65) while sharing the lead in interceptions (3) and leading the team in pass breakups with 10.
"We have to come ready to play and prepare well because they're good. We have great leadership on defense; we have leaders on the D line with LT (Leterrius Walton); we have a leader at linebacker in (Justin) Cherocci; and then in the back end we have a lot of guys who know what they're doing."
Annese came up with a big interception in CMU's win over Northern Illinois.
"That was a big step for our program and our season and we had a chance to have a great season, but came up short a couple of games and didn't finish so it would be great to go get this bowl win," Annese said.
Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky
Kickoff: Noon Wednesday, Thomas Robinson National Stadium, Nassau
Line: Western Kentucky by 3
Records: Central Michigan 7-5, Western Kentucky 7-5