Some quick hits involving Wednesday’s Foster Farms Bowl between Arizona and Purdue …
— The Wildcats have never played a Big Ten team in a bowl game. Their last matchup with a Big Ten opponent was an upset of ninth-ranked Iowa in 2010 at Arizona Stadium under Mike Stoops. The Wildcats have played 12 teams from Power 5 conferences in their 20-game bowl history, but only once in Rich Rodriguez’s tenure since 2012. That game was a 42-19 win over Boston College of the ACC in the 2013 AdvoCare V100 Bowl.
— In fact, out of the 22 non-conference games Rodriguez has coached at Arizona (including bowls), Oklahoma State ans Boston College are the only Power 5 school his teams have played. That makes the matchup with Purdue more intriguing. It’s almost inexcusable for this scheduling practice — started by Stoops — when you consider what Rodriguez’s predecessors faced by their sixth season. Stoops coached against five, including Purdue in 2005 in his second season. Dick Tomey incredibly faced 12, including highly-ranked Miami in a home-and-home in 1991 and 1992. Larry Smith coached against seven, including two against Notre Dame and another against No. 3 SMU (when the Mustangs were in the Southwest Conference). Even Tony Mason, who coached three years from 1977 to 1979, faced nine Power 5 opponents in that brief span. And you wonder why Arizona’s attendance has dwindled? You become the best by playing the best, right? Purdue becomes only the second Power 5 non-conference opponent to face Rodriguez’s teams other than a declining Oklahoma State team in 2012 and a mediocre Boston College team. Even if you factor in BYU in 2016 and perennial Mountain West Conference power Boise State (2014 Fiesta Bowl), that’s still only four larger-than-usual programs.
— Arizona media relations associate director Blair Willis tweeted that Arizona returns next season 72 percent of its players who started in 2017. The offense returns 88 of 132 starts (67 percent). The defense returns 103 of 132 starts (78 percent). The total return: 191 of 264 starts (72 percent). Next season is Rodriguez’s time to shine in the Pac-12 South. UCLA and ASU will be under new coaches. USC will be without quarterback Sam Darnold. Utah should be in the hunt again with eight starters returning on offense and seven on defense. Colorado returns eight starters on defense but only four on offense. In terms of continuity from the coaching staff to the two-deep rosters, Arizona is as in good of shape as anyone.
— My two cents about Chuck Cecil’s situation at Arizona: Rodriguez should elevate him to an associate head coaching position before one of Arizona’s most popular players — with an impressive coaching resume — leaves to coach elsewhere. Cecil before the season was signed to basically only a six-month deal to be Arizona’s Director of Player Personnel, which is not a coaching position as some might believe. Basically, Cecil has served as an analyst of the coaches — coaching the coaches, in other words. He has never had the opportunity to do what he loves the most — work with the players specifically. Cecil’s contract, miniscule compared to what he earned as an NFL assistant, ends in January. Coincidentally, after legislation this year, every FBS college football team will add a 10th on-field assistant coach starting Jan. 9. Two things must likely happen for Cecil to stay at his alma mater: He is elevated to an assistant coaching position and he has a title of more magnitude than defensive backs coach. Cecil becoming an associate head coach would certainly make him stay. He will be approached by others, knowing his situation at Arizona, and will be hired if things fall through with the Wildcats. Count on that. If Rodriguez hires somebody outside of the program, how would that sit with fans and former players? Not good at all. Arizona is a program in need of a fix from a public-relations standpoint. The dwindling attendance — only 42,632 a game this year — is quite alarming. Cecil is the type who would drum up support from Arizona students and fans by meeting them personally at every opportunity. He is that type of person, the equivalent of what Steve Kerr means to the basketball program. Arizona needs Cecil more than Cecil needs Arizona. Hopefully, Rodriguez and athletic director Dave Heeke realize that.
— Khalil Tate’s Heisman push for next season starts tonight. Another game filled with highlight-reel plays sets up Tate nicely entering next season with some off-season chatter. A mediocre to poor performance will dampen the support for him for the Heisman, especially with how the regular season ended against Oregon and ASU in which Tate was ineffective. Arizona wisely prominently features Tate in its postseason media guide that many national media types have observed. What is outlined:
Tate Leads the FBS in:
• Total QBR according to ESPN.com (94.1)
• 10.2 yards per carry
• Five 70+ yard runs (four of them TDs)
• 327 yards vs. Colorado set new FBS single-game record for rushing by a QB and is highest total by any FBS player this season
The Big Plays
• Averages 47.7 yards per touchdown run (12 touchdowns)
• Averages 24.7 yards per passing touchdown (9 touchdowns)
• Averages 37.2 yards per touchdown play (21 total touchdowns)
• 82-yard run second-longest by FBS quarterback this season
• Four touchdown runs of 70-plus yards.
Tate in the Rankings
• No. 1 nationally with 10.6 average per carry
• Leads FBS in total QBR (94.1)
• No. 6 nationally with 135.3 rushing yards per game
• No. 15 nationally with 1,353 rushing yards in only 10 games
• No. 19 nationally averaging 8.4 yards per pass attempt
Tate will be a challenge for Purdue, which won its final two games to become eligible for its first bowl berth in five years.
“When you play a dynamic guy, you’ve got to find a way to contain him,” first-year Purdue coach Jeff Brohm told the Lafayette (Ind.) Journal and Courier. “He’s going to make a few plays. You have to make sure he doesn’t break the long play. You have to rally numerous guys to get to him. We’re going to have to have a much better plan than the first game.”
— Purdue has an outstanding run defense, which allows only 3.6 yards per carry and has surrendered a total of 10 touchdowns on the season. Good news for Arizona’s embattled defense, which is maturing with stellar freshmen: The Boilermakers rank No. 83 in rushing offense. Purdue rushed for more than 200 yards in four of its six wins, including a 272-yard effort while averaging 6.3 yards per carry in the win over Indiana. 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 gained almost 300 combined yards.
— The styles of each offenses are contrasting. 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 high-scoring game benefits Arizona. Purdue’s up-and-down rushing attack and inefficient passing game would struggle to keep up with Tate and the Wildcats. If defensive tackle Gelen Robinson and the Boilermakers’ front seven can stifle Arizona early, then the Boilermakers can turn the momentum to their side from the start.
— Brohm was a standout quarterback at Louisville who spent seven years in the NFL has revitalized a Boilermakers program that had not won more than three games in any of the four previous seasons and hasn’t had a winning season since 2011. A 35-28 season-opening loss to then-No. 16 Louisville, a team with a quarterback like Tate, convinced Brohm that Purdue might be pretty good. The Boilermakers’ quarterback, Elijah Sindelar, began the season as the starter and shared time with David Blough, who eventually replaced Sindelar as the starter at midseason. But when Blough suffered a season-ending ankle injury on Nov. 4, Sindelar regained his starting position and finished with seven touchdown passes and just one interception in his final three starts, including a road win over then-No. 25 Iowa. Sindelar and Jones may find success against an Arizona defense that ranks 116th (of 129 FBS schools) in total defense and 108th in scoring defense, yielding 34.1 points per game.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.