A week from tomorrow Purdue returns to postseason football. News has been slow as we have approached this game. More has been directed toward tomorrow’s first ever early signing day. Still, we haven’t forgotten about the bowl game. That means a return to our blogger interview as Jason Bartel of SB Nation’s Arizona Desert Swarm stops by to talk about the Arizona Wildcats.
T-Mill: This certainly looks like a strength on strength game. Arizona is one of the best rushing teams int he country and Purdue has a surprisingly stout run defense. What makes the run game so good aside from Khalil Tate?
Jason: If there's been one consistency in the RichRod era at Arizona, it's having a good run game. I think what makes this year's team so successful is the variety and explosiveness of the various options in the backfield. Nick Wilson is a guy who came in and started as a true freshman in 2014, but injuries sort of derailed his college career. This year he was actually relatively healthy for him, so that gave Arizona some veteran presence with second-year guys Tate and J.J. Taylor. Taylor is small but lightning quick, and has a plethora of moves in the open field that he uses to make defenders' legs turn to jello.
Also, I think this gets overlooked a lot, but Arizona has always had good blocking by receivers downfield. So combine that with a pretty experienced offensive line and you've got plenty of room to run all over the field.
T-Mill: On the other side, Arizona's defense has given up 40 points or more five times, yet Purdue's offense has had struggles. What is weaker, the run defense or pass defense?
Jason: So the numbers say the passing defense (121st) is worse than the rushing defense (87th), but with the way this team finished down the stretch and the various injuries to the defensive front, I'd say the rushing defense is more troublesome in its current state. Now do some of those crucial guys get healthy before this game? Maybe. But yes, this defense is all around pretty bad this year. But a lot of it is also because it's really young. Be glad you're getting to face this defense now and not in 2019?
T-Mill: Purdue finished by winning 3 of 4 and Arizona lost 3 of 4. Does that momentum play a factor?
I don't think so. Bowl games are weird and so far from the end of the season that I think it's even more random than regular college football. Honestly I think they just come down to which group of 18-22 year olds locks in for three hours better than the other one. Especially a game like this where there's not really anything on the line.
T-Mill: How much did the change to Tate at QB jump start things? How is he as a passer?
Jason: It's like if you try to jump start a AAA battery with a nuclear power plant. This team was starting to wilt away, RichRod was going to lose his job, and all of the focus on Tucson was on the FBI investigation. Tate's record-setting performance against Colorado was the first Arizona football game after the basketball program was hit with the FBI stuff, so he really brought an entire fanbase's spirits up; not just the team's. Now we're all talking about Arizona possibly doing big things in the next two years and a potential Heisman candidate...like what?
Here's where I split from a lot of Arizona fans. Tate's okay at passing, but he's not this guy who connects on every single long passing play like people have made him out to be. Almost all of Arizona's explosive plays have been running plays or dump down passes that end up with all the YAC. He's certainly more accurate in the short game than Brandon Dawkins was, so the offense was able to create yards for itself better when Tate got in.
T-Mill: Purdue has experience with a dynamic QB in having played Lamar Jackson. Is Tate a poor man's Jackson?
Jason: I wouldn't say poor man's Jackson. If Tate can put up an entire season that is about 85% of what he did in October, he is the next Jackson. Tate did average more rushing yards per game this year than Jackson.
T-Mill: A quick basketball question since we're basketball addicts: Has Arizona righted things since the Bahamas? We were not expecting a 24 point blowout over you.
Jason: Yeah I guess. They haven't lost since then and beat a very good Texas A&M team in Phoenix. Rawle Alkins coming back was big. Purdue was probably the best team Arizona played in the Bahamas, so after those first two results a blowout wasn't all that surprising on our end. It was a bad week that's ended up being the only losses so far. But not everything will be right with the world until ASU drops below Arizona in the rankings again.
T-Mill: Who has the biggest advantage going into this bowl game?
Jason: Do I or do I not currently have a pulse? Yes I do. Let's play football!