SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The Arizona Wildcats couldn’t keep their defensive line intact at the end of the season, a trend that continued in the Foster Farms Bowl on Wednesday night.
Senior defensive tackle Parker Zellers did not play against Purdue because of a violation of team rules. It was the second time in three games that Zellers was suspended for that reason, marking an ignominious end to his college career.
The undersized Zellers had risen from walk-on to scholarship player to rotation regular, and the coaches often pointed to him as an inspirational story. He finished the season with 18 tackles and one sack.
Freshman defensive end/linebacker Kylan Wilborn left the game in the first quarter because of an undisclosed injury. Entering Wednesday, Wilborn led Arizona with 7.5 sacks and paced the Pac-12 with four forced fumbles.
Senior DeAndre’ Miller replaced Wilborn and recorded a fourth-down stop that led to a Wildcats touchdown later in the opening period.
Arizona already was experimenting on the other end of the line. Trevor Wood, a tight end for most of his UA career, made his first start at defensive end. The 6-foot-6-inch, 265-pound redshirt junior batted down a pass in the second quarter.
Wood first appeared at defensive end in the regular-season finale against Arizona State. The Wildcats had to scramble when three linemen — end Justin Belknap and tackles Dereck Boles and Luca Bruno — got hurt the previous week against Oregon.
Belknap (knee) and Bruno (concussion) missed the ASU game. Boles played sparingly. Bruno and Boles returned to the starting lineup against Purdue. Belknap rotated with Wood.
O-line shuffle coming
The next time Arizona plays a real game, its offensive line will have a radically different look.
Three starters — tackles Gerhard de Beer and guards Jacob Alsadek and Christian Boettcher — played their final games as Wildcats on Wednesday night.
Wednesday was also Arizona’s first game with Garin Justice aboard as offensive line coach. Justice spent the game in the coaches’ booth serving as an observer while graduate assistant Kyle Quinn coached the linemen on the sideline. Jim Michalczik, Arizona’s offensive line coach since 2013, left for Oregon State earlier this month.
Justice, who was introduced to the team over the weekend, should have a smooth transition. He started at tackle for Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia and spent a year coaching under him as a grad assistant.
“I thought he was a perfect fit,” Rodriguez said. “He knows our offense, mostly, and he’s got some new ideas as well. He’s going to be a great worker for us. We’re really excited to have him.
“He’s got big shoes to fill. Jim did a great job. I think Garin will do fantastic for us.”
Justice spent the past two seasons at Florida Atlantic. The Owls just completed an 11-3 season under first-year coach Lane Kiffin. They were sixth in the nation in rushing and eighth in scoring entering Wednesday.
The linemen barely had a chance to meet Justice, who flew to San Francisco, returned to the East Coast to retrieve his family and then came back to the Bay Area for the game.
“We had a little bit of individual (drills) with him, but it wasn’t enough to feel out how he actually is,” said center Nathan Eldridge, who will anchor the line next season. “We’re all excited to work, and I know he is too.”
- UA wide receiver Shawn Poindexter’s 31-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter was the first score of his UA career.
- Arizona appeared to have solved its punting problems until Jake Glatting shanked one late in the second quarter. The ball traveled just 9 yards, lowering his first-half average to 34.8 yards per kick
- Scottie Young Jr.’s first career interception was Arizona’s 19th of the season, the most by the Wildcats since 1985.