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2017 Foster Farms Bowl: Arizona vs. Purdue Preview

Purdue’s return to the bowl season comes against a really good rushing team.

NCAA Football: Washington State at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue has not beaten a major conference opponent in a bowl game since the 2002 Sun Bowl when it came from behind to beat Washington. That’s quite a long drought. After getting off to a solid start by winning the first two bowl games under Joe Tiller to move to 6-1 all-time in the postseason Purdue has gone 3-7 in the following ten postseason games. Tiller’s teams were infamous for starting slow in bowl games, then roaring back. Twice it lost to Georgia in overtime, and a late collapse against Arizona State in 2004 cost us another bowl win.

Purdue did win its 2007 and 2011 bowl games in Detroit, but they were bowl wins over MAC teams. Our last venture into the postseason was a disaster. The bowl pecking order and multiple Big Ten BCS teams had Purdue playing up and Oklahoma State playing down. Purdue was also playing under an interim coach. As a result, Oklahoma State destroyed us 58-14 in a game that really didn’t even feel that close.

Now we get a shot at a positive finish to an overall progressive year. A win over Arizona would clinch the first winning season for Purdue since 2011, be the first bowl win over a major conference team since 2002, and set the stage for a big 2018 season where Purdue could get 8 or more wins for the first time since 2007, 9 or more for the first time since 2003, or (dare we dream) 10 wins for the first time since 1979.

Arizona Wildcats

2016 Record: 3-9, 1-8 Pac-12 South

2017 Record: 7-5, 5-4 Pac-12 South

Bowl Result: None

Blog Representation: Arizona Desert Swarm

Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 2-0

Last Purdue win: 31-24 at Arizona on 9/17/2005

Last Arizona win: None

Head Coach: Rich Rodriguez (43-34 in 6th season at Arizona, 163-118-2 overall)

Both teams were 3-9 a year ago and nowhere near the postseason. Arizona was 2-1 at one point and took eventual Pac-12 champion Washington to overtime to start league play, but lost to start an 8-game losing streak. Among the worst was a 69-7 loss at Washington State and a 42-17 loss at Oregon State.

This year they started slow, going 2-2 with wins over Northern Arizona and UTEP (the only winless team in FBS play) while losing to Utah and Houston. They then got on a roll with four straight wins where the offense put up at least 45 points in each game. A 45-44 double overtime win at Cal was a wild affair capped by a failed two-point conversion for the Golden Bears. A convincing 58-37 win over ranked Washington State changed the entire Pac-12 race.

Unfortunately, the last four games did not go well. Arizona only beat Oregon State 49-28 and gave up at least 42 points in each of three losses. They closed the season with a 42-30 loss at Arizona State, who then fired its coach after the win.

This Arizona team is a lot like the teams Rich Rodriguez had at Michigan. They have a dynamic offense run by a dual-threat quarterback, but the defense can be a liability. They are 6th nationally in scoring at 41.8 points per game, but 109th defensively at 34.1 given up. The closest offense we have come to facing it Missouri, who averaged 39.3 points per game and finished 10th nationally.

For the record, Purdue held them to 3 points on their home field, and the Tigers were 7th nationally in yards per game at 512 while Arizona was 12th at 495.

Conversely, Purdue was 97th in scoring at 24.2 points per game, but an impressive 18th defensively at 19.3 per game given up. Indiana is the only team that scored more than two touchdowns on Purdue in the final eight games of the season, and that needed two scores very late as Purdue had a big lead.

Who to Watch on Offense

Khalil Tate – QB – Kyle previewed him yesterday, but the sophomore was named the starter against Colorado in the fifth game of the season and the offense took off. He rushed for 327 yards and 4 touchdowns against the Buffloes, followed by 230 and 2 scores a week later against UCLA. He finished the season with 1,353 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground and 1,289 yards and 9 touchdowns against 8 interceptions through the air. The bulk of his work came in a midseason six game stretch. Oregon and Arizona State held him to a total of 60 yards rushing and one TD. He only threw for 291 yards and 1 TD against 2 picks in those two games too. Tate is definitely a run first QB and does the read option well. If Purdue can contain him it basically shuts down the Arizona offense.

J.J. Taylor – RB – Taylor is part of a stable of running backs that does a great job of moving the ball down the field. Against Washington State he ran for 153 yards and two scores and he had 129 against Oregon State. Overall he was the No. 2 rusher behind Tate with 828 yards and 5 TDs. Overall Arizona was the No. 2 rushing team in the country at 324 yards per game, trailing Army at 368.1 yards per game (and Army did not pass, with only 60 passing attempts on the season). Zach Green (310 yards, 11 TDs) and Nick Wilson (585 yards, 6 TDs) are also good backs. Overall, Arizona had 48 rushing touchdowns on the season and 3,893 yards, while Purdue’s run defense was 30th nationally at 133.3 yards per game (a GIGANTIC improvement from the last decade or so).

Shun Brown – WR – Arizona only has 2,041 yards passing and 14 TDs through the air, but Brown led the team with 39 receptions for 511 yards and 5 TDs. The 5’9” junior is not a big receiver, but he is shift and can do a lot in space.

Tony Ellison – WR – Ellison is the bigger outside receiver with 33 receptions for 496 yards and 3 TDs. In the even Arizona does throw it is likely going to either Ellison or Brown, but Arizona would greatly prefer to run the read-option.

Who to Watch on Defense

In many ways it might be “What defense?” Arizona gave up 187.3 yards per game on the ground, but were pretty good through the air at 170 yards per game. They can give up points, however, and if Purdue’s offense gets healthy and back on track with some rest and practice there are points to be had.

Tony Fields II – LB – Field was a double-digit tackler in six of Arizona’s 10 games and finished the year with 91 tackles to lead the team. He also had 4 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss, and an interception. He and fellow linebacker Colin Schooler play all over the field and can get into the backfield. Schooler also added four sacks, but had 13.5 tackles for loss.

KylanWilborn – DE – The 6’2”, 245 pound defensive end is an excellent pass rusher with 7.5 sacks on the season. He finished the year with just 33 tackles overall, but 9.5 were for loss. Purdue figures to struggle protecting the edge with Grant Hermanns still out.

Lorenzo Burns – CB – As a team, Arizona intercepted 18 passes in 12 games and Burns had 5 of them. He was also in on 75 tackles and generally was a solid shutdown corner. Four of his five interceptions came in the second half of the season.

Who to Watch on Special Teams

Jake Glatting – P – Purdue has virtually no punt return game and Glatting as a terrible 35.7 yards per kick average, so something must give.

Tyrell Johnson – KR – Johnson has been okay at returning kicks with a 26 yard average, but Spencer Evans often just boots a touchback anyway.

Shun Brown – PR – The receiver is a dangerous punt returner. He has returned 15 pounts for a 13 yard average and has taken two of them back for touchdowns. Given that Purdue has no return game on either end whatsoever, this could be a difference maker.

Game Outlook

This is a battle of strength against strength. Purdue’s run defense has been pretty good all year and I am still amazed that we held teams under 20 points for the season. The only team to get over 35 was Louisville, and they needed both a pick-6 and the defending Heisman winner to do so. Purdue’s offense is still very much a work in progress under Jeff Brohm as he tries to get the players he needs, but the defense has been outstanding, especially given how horrid it has been for years.

It is going to be hard to hold a player like Tate in check though. He is a poor man’s Lamar Jackson, and Jackson ran for 107 yards and threw for 378. Tate is not the passer Jackson is, but he is a hell of a runner. This game will only go as far as Purdue can contain him.

I do want to see what Purdue’s offense can do with some prep and healing time. Some things were really starting to work in the last few games. Anthony Mahoungou was a solid deep threat. Elijah Sindelar threw for 764 yards, 7 TDs, and just one interception in the last three games. There is also Markell Jones, who just had the best day for a Purdue running back in 17 years against a Big Ten opponent.

It will be an interesting game. Purdue’s offense has not been very explosive because of its limited talent, but the defense has held a lot of teams in check. We only scored over 40 once (against Ohio) while Arizona was over 40 ten times. Purdue did not allow more than 30 offensive points all season and held six teams under 20. Arizona gave up more than 30 eight times and more than 40 five times.

Because it is opposite going against each other it should be fun.