There’s reason to celebrate in West Lafayette again, as Jeff Brohm led Purdue to a 6-6 record and its first bowl appearance since 2012. The Boilermakers will take on Arizona in the Foster Farms Bowl, scheduled for Dec. 27 at 8:30 p.m. ET.
Here are five things to know about the Wildcats, who finished in third place in the Pac-12 South with a 5-4 record in conference play and a 7-5 mark overall.
Ground and pound offense
Arizona owned the best rushing attack in the Pac-12 and the third-best in the nation, thanks in large part to versatile quarterback Khalil Tate. The Wildcats rushed for over 300 yards seven times this season and eclipsed the 500-yard mark twice. That proficiency on the ground translated to high totals on the scoreboard, as Arizona averaged a conference-best 41.6 points per game.
Tate led the attack for the Wildcats, rushing for 1,353 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. Running backs J.J. Taylor and Nick Wilson also had big years, toting the ball or 828 yards and 585 yards respectively.
Defense gives up big plays
No defense in the Pac-12 surrendered more plays of 30-plus yards than Arizona, most of those coming through the air. It also ranks as the worst passing defense in the conference and 122nd nationally. It’s not hard to see why good passing teams have trounced Rich Rodriguez and Co.
Arizona has given up 131 pass plays that have gone for at least 10 yards this season, which is also one of the worst statistics in the nation. This is one defense that quarterbacks, receivers and wide open offenses love to pick apart.
Zona’s style frustrates defensive linemen
This is a team that knows how to win in the trenches. As you might imagine with a mobile quarterback and a run-heavy scheme, the Wildcats don’t allow many sacks or tackles for loss. That can be really frustrating for defensive lines, especially when they exert so much energy trying to slow down Tate.
One of the nation’s top quarterbacks, a slew of talented running backs and a stout offensive line translates to an exhausted defensive front.
Youth, youth, youth
Five of Arizona’s top 10 tacklers are freshmen, led by Tony Fields II and Colin Schooler who have combined for 179 total stops. Another freshman, Lorenzo Burns, led the Pac-12 with five interceptions this season. So while the Wildcats are extremely young and inexperienced, there’s some real talent that’s blossomed.
Youth typically also translates to inconsistent play, which probably explains Arizona’s troubles stopping big plays and its struggles against the pass. It’s hard to know what to expect out of a unit that employs so many newcomers.
Arizona has never beaten Purdue
The two teams have only met on the gridiron twice, as the two programs scheduled a home-and-home in 2003 and 2005. The Boilermakers won both of those matchups and lead the series 2-0 all-time.
Rodriguez has also had his issues against Purdue in his career. While at Michigan from 2008-2010, Rodriguez and the Wolverines battled the Boilermakers three times, winning just one of the three matchups.