REGGIE HAYES: Purdue vs. Arizona bowl game perfect for a lazy Wednesday night

Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate, center, runs for a touchdown past California linebacker Alex Funches, left, in a game this season. (Photo by the Associated Press)

Earlier this month, I wrote there was no compelling reason to watch Purdue play Arizona in the Foster Farms Bowl game. I’ve changed my mind.

There are two primary reasons: Khalil Tate’s instincts and Jeff Brohm’s playbook.

There’s also a third reason to tune in at 8:30 tonight on FOX: What else are you going to do on a nondescript Wednesday night between holidays? It’s football. It could be high-scoring. It’s free, relatively speaking.

Let’s start with Tate.

Tate, Arizona’s sophomore quarterback, earned national attention in Week 5 when, without any previous hints of breaking out, he rushed for 327 yards on 14 carries (23.4 per) and scored four touchdowns. That set in motion a series of performances that caused college football junkies to wonder if Tate was the second coming of Robert Griffin III. And would we have to call him RG3/2.0?

That breakout game started a stretch of six games, with five wins, which made people aware Arizona has a football team. In losses to Oregon and Arizona State to end the regular season, Tate was held to a combined 60 yards on 22 carries, slowing down the “next Heisman candidate” talk.

But most bowl teams are refreshed with a month’s time to prepare, and it will be fascinating to see how Purdue’s defense handles Tate.

Tate finished the regular season with 1,353 yards rushing (10.2 yards per carry), along with 1,289 yards passing. He scored 12 touchdowns rushing and threw for nine touchdowns with eight interceptions.

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Arizona, which has a cadre of running backs, averaged 324.4 yards rushing per game, third best in the nation, and ranked first in the Pac-12 in scoring offense and total offense. Purdue’s run defense has been one of its strong points, as the Boilermakers allow only 133.3 yards per game and have held all but two opponents under 200 yards.

Can Purdue corral Tate or will he be able to use his fresh legs to rack up some yardage and turn the game into a shootout? Worth watching.

The other compelling reason is Brohm’s playbook.

After a few weeks of speculation from a variety of media outlets about whether Brohm would be bolting the Boilers for another program, he’s still the Purdue coach. If that’s not necessarily a Christmas miracle, it’s a nice holiday treat for Purdue fans.

Now, with a month to prepare, what might Brohm have up his sleeve? He loves offense. He loves trick plays. He has little to lose by trying to be bold with both in a bowl game.

Brohm’s coaching profile has risen far above Purdue’s 6-6 mark during his first season. He’ll remain on the short list of hot coaching candidates unless next season ends with a 3-9 record.

This game will be another opportunity for Brohm to show what he can do, both in game-planning and in game situation reactions.

Arizona ranked last in the Pac-12 in pass defense, allowing an average of 276.9 yards per game. Purdue quarterback Elijah Sindelar settled into the role as starter, finishing the season with 1,703 yards, 14 touchdowns and six interceptions.

Presumably, Brohm will lean on the Boilermakers’ run game to set up opportunities for Sindelar to shine against Arizona’s vulnerable pass defense.

Presumably, Tate’s fresh legs will test the Boilermakers defense.

Presumably, a high-scoring bowl game could be in the works.

Tonight’s game is far from the most important of the bowl season. It should be entertaining. That’s really all we can ask for on a post-Christmas, pre-New Year’s kind of Wednesday night.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.

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