Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate stepped into the lineup on Oct. 7 and ignited a four-game winning streak that pushed the Wildcats into the Top 25 for the first time since 2014, and guaranteed the program its fifth winning season since 2012.
The 2012 season was the last time Purdue reached a bowl game, but the Boilermakers ended that drought in their first campaign under head coach Jeff Brohm (right). Coming off a wildly successful tenure at Western Kentucky, Brohm brought an energetic approach that produced some big wins on the way to the postseason.
While Arizona suffered two road losses to close out the regular season, Purdue needed wins in its final two to secure bowl eligibility. Single-digit defeats of Iowa and rival Indiana punched the Boilers' ticket to Santa Clara.
Foster Farms Bowl: Arizona vs. Purdue
Kickoff: Wednesday, Dec. 27 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: Levi's Stadium (Santa Clara, Calif.)
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Arizona -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Slowing Khalil Tate
It's no coincidence that in the two losses that ended Arizona's regular season, Oregon and Arizona State held Khalil Tate to 60 rushing yards combined. Tate's explosiveness on quarterback keeps in the option fueled the Wildcats' ground game, which averaged 324.2 yards per game in the regular season. Denying those lanes in turn closed down other lanes for Arizona ball carriers.
Tate nursing a shoulder injury against Arizona State certainly did not help the cause, either. His health after a month's layoff could be a factor. If not, though, the Purdue defense must look to its first game of the season for strategy on the last.
The Boilermakers opened against Louisville and Lamar Jackson, one of the most prolific running quarterbacks in college football history. A Purdue defense that enters this game ranked No. 30 against the run nationally limited Louisville to 146 yards. That was one of just seven games in which the Boilermakers' opponent reached the century mark — including a run of four straight games in the final stretch of the regular season.
2. Running game contrasts
Purdue's outstanding run defense, which allows just 3.6 yards per carry and has surrendered a total of 10 touchdowns on the season, is not the only contrast to Arizona's prolific ground attack. While the Boilermakers will try to contain Tate, as well as a multifaceted running-back rotation of Nick Wilson (right), Zach Green and J.J. Taylor, Purdue also must jump-start its own run game.
The Boilers rank No. 83 in rushing offense, though the difference in wins and losses was stark. Purdue rushed for more than 200 yards in four of six wins, including a 272-yard deluge while averaging 6.3 yards per carry in the bowl-sealing win over Indiana. Meanwhile, the Boilermakers failed to rush for 100 yards in four of six losses. Running back Markell Jones saw a heavier workload in the final two games of the regular season, and delivered performances of 5.3 and 7.0 yards per carry with almost 300 combined yards.
An Arizona defense that allowed 4.7 yards per carry and 31 rushing touchdowns must limit Purdue on the ground and turn the Boilermakers into a primarily passing team.
3. Dictate tempo
This bowl season features very few matchups with teams as different as Arizona and Purdue. The Boilermakers scored more than 29 points just once in the final seven games of the regular season. Arizona, on the other hand, scored 30-plus points in nine of its 12 regular-season games.
A fast-paced game with points going on the board early benefits Arizona. Purdue's up-and-down rushing attack and middling passing attack would likely struggle to keep pace if the Wildcats' explosive offense starts clicking. If defensive tackle Gelen Robinson and the Boilermakers' front seven can stifle Arizona and dictate pace of play in the first, the advantage swings Purdue's way.
Arizona's outstanding midseason stretch hit a snag down the stretch with losses in three of four to close out, including a difficult rivalry game. Khalil Tate's shoulder injury that sidelined him in the second half at Arizona State is something head coach Rich Rodriguez will be mindful of early in the Foster Farms Bowl; Arizona cannot sacrifice the forecast for a promising 2018 in order to win the bowl game.
Still, a month off should have Tate playing closer to his October form. Arizona's defense was among the youngest in the country, and Purdue will have its opportunities to put up points on the Wildcats. But an offensive game benefits Arizona, which should get to eight wins for the fourth time in Rodriguez's six seasons at the helm.
Prediction: Arizona 38, Purdue 31