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Arizona clashes against Purdue’s stout run defense in Foster Farms Bowl

After dropping three of the final four regular season games, the Arizona Wildcats (7-5) wrap 2017 against the Purdue Boilermakers (6-6) in the Foster Farms Bowl.

First, the necessary details.

When: Wednesday, Dec. 27, 6:30 p.m. MST

Where: Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.


1. Arizona’s run game vs. Purdue’s front seven

If you hadn’t heard, the Wildcats run a zone-read scheme bolstered by quarterback Khalil Tate and a revolving running back rotation that has size, physicality and explosiveness.

And here’s where the challenge lies: Purdue was a top-20 team in scoring defense, allowing just 19.3 per game and ranking 35th in yards per play allowed. The team excels particularly at stopping the run.

The Boilermakers rank 27th by allowing 3.6 yards per carry. That’s the same as an Oregon team that held the Wildcats’ run game to 3.8 yards per carry and limited Tate’s longest of 14 carries to just 13 yards.

Therein might lie the blueprint for Purdue to beat an explosive Arizona offense that was third in the country in total rushing yards and first at 6.8 yards per carry.

Purdue played four teams that put up more than 30 points per game over the course of 2017. It allowed 35 to Louisville (39 points per game), 21 to Ohio (38.9), 17 to Wisconsin (33.8) and, most impressively, 3 to Missouri (39.3).

No doubt, Purdue would prefer to force Tate to make plays through the air. And though it came in the first game of the year, the Boilermakers have experience at least containing an elite athlete at quarterback. In the season opener, they held 2016 Heisman winner Lamar Jackson of Louisville to 107 rushing yards with a long of 15 — but he completed 30-of-46 passes for 378 yards through the air.

Tate, who doesn’t have the same resume as a passer, will have to make plays through the air.

Purdue players to watch: LB Ja’Whaun Bentley, LB Markus Bailey, DE Gelen Robinson

2. Chunk plays — or not

In large part because of Tate’s breakaway speed, the Wildcats ranked second — behind Oklahoma — with 39 plays of 40 or more yards.

On the other hand, Purdue ranked third to last with just five all season long.

If there were one way to describe the Boilermakers’ offense, methodical would be more accurate than explosive.

Running out their offensive linemen fairly spread out and often sending four receivers down the field, Purdue had a fairly balanced attack with a pass-to-run ratio of 1.07. And there is plenty of diversity with them often using two tight ends in those formations.

Tight ends Brycen Hopkins and Cole Herdman are second and third in receiving yards on the team, and they will challenge Arizona’s young linebackers in Colin Schooler and Tony Fields II.

After the Boilermakers lost one of their two quarterbacks, David Blough, to a season-ending injury, it’s on sophomore Elijah Sindelar to lead the way. He’s completed just 56 percent of his passes but has taken decent care of the ball, throwing 14 touchdowns to six interceptions.

Meanwhile, junior running back Markell Jones is coming off a 217-yard outing at Indiana.

Point being, Purdue leaned on its stout defense all season and found enough offense to put together a better-than-anticipated season.

While they may not have explosive athletes at their disposal, the Boilermakers aren’t dull: They have tricks up their sleeves.

3. Ball control will be key

What does this all come down to?

If Purdue’s run defense holds up and Arizona can’t make the opponent pay with the pass, then perhaps the thing to watch is the Boilermaker’s rushing attack. Is it the mediocre one that averaged 4.5 yards per carry this year? The one that put up 72 whole yards in the penultimate game against an Iowa team known for its linebacker corps?

Or is it closer to the one that gashed a 5-7 Indiana team for 272 yards on 6.3 yards per rush in the regular season finale?

The stat: Purdue averages 191 yards rushing in wins and 110.8 in losses.

Arizona’s differential makes that look meaningless. The Wildcats average 413 rushing yards in wins and 200.4 in losses.

Bets are the more successful run game gets the win.

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