Here are three things to watch when the Arizona Wildcats face Purdue in the Foster Farms Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara (Wednesday, 6:30 p.m., Fox), plus a score prediction and some pertinent preview links:
Funny thing about QB Khalil Tate’s amazing season: He rushed for only 60 yards on 22 attempts in the final two games. Granted, he missed most of the second half of the regular-season finale. But still: After he gained at least 137 yards in each of the previous six games, it’s stunning to see how little he gained in the final two. Oregon played Tate better than anyone had, steadfastly denying him access to the perimeter. He carried only eight times against Arizona State, and the Wildcats were moving the ball until Rich Rodriguez inexplicably eased up on the accelerator late in the first half. Tate says he’s healthy now, which obviously wasn’t the case vs. ASU. It’s also worth noting that J.J. Taylor and Nick Wilson combined for exactly 125 yards in each of the last two games – so it’s not as if Arizona’s run game was shut down completely. Purdue has been stingy against the run, as detailed in Preview Links Story No. 1 below. But there aren’t a lot of Tate types in the Big Ten (or anywhere). I’d be surprised if he didn’t bust at least one long run.
2. GOOD WOOD
Redshirt junior Trevor Wood could start at defensive end. Minimally, he will rotate with Justin Belknap. This is a surprising development to say the least, considering that Wood was a full-time tight end a little over a month ago. The move says two things: (1) The Wildcats still don’t have adequate depth at certain positions; and (2) Wood might have a future on defense. I talked to one UA coach who thinks Wood has NFL potential as a defensive end. He has excellent size for the position at 6-6, 265, and he seems enthusiastic about the switch, at least publicly. Wood’s father played the position at Arizona, so Trevor possesses the pass-rushing gene; it just so happened to be dormant until the ASU game, when an injury to Belknap necessitated the move. If the experiment goes well against the Boilermakers, Wood will have to sit down with his family and the coaching staff and decide where his football future lies. It’s a conversation he never expected to have as recently as mid-November.
3. TRICKS IN THE MIX?
Teams often dip into their bags of tricks in bowl games, for better or worse. Arizona needs to be on its toes whenever Purdue punts the ball; the Boilermakers have run four fakes this year, gaining a first down each time. Probable UA punter Jake Glatting played quarterback in high school, but let’s face it: He needs to concentrate on his day job after the Wildcats’ recent misadventures in the punt game. We got to watch a chunk of Arizona’s practice Monday. We aren’t allowed to report on trick plays if we see them. But I thought I’d share two plays Tate made that weren’t tricks, per se, but examples of his improvisational wizardry. On the first play, Tate rolled to his right. Unable to find anyone open downfield, he fired the ball to a checkdown receiver standing near the opposite sideline; the ball traveled at least 40 yards in the air. On the second play, Tate again rolled right. He connected with tight end Bryce Wolma for a diving touchdown in the back corner of the end zone. It was a thing of beauty.
FINAL SCORE: Arizona 35, Purdue 28
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