Arizona Wildcats (7-5 SU, 6-6 ATS) vs. Purdue Boilermakers (6-6 SU, 8-4 ATS)
College Football Foster Farms Bowl
Date and Time: Wednesday, December 27 at 8:30pm ET
Where: Levis Stadium
by Evergreen, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: ZONA -3.5/PURD +3.5
Over/Under Total: 65.5
Along with radios blaring Jingle Bells and long lines at the mall, (the mall is a place where we all went to buy things before Amazon took over) the holiday season is also bowl season. Most folks want to focus on the New Years Day slate and the Playoff matchups but there are plenty of solid games in the lead-in bowls. Arizona and Purdue will square off in the Foster Farms Bowl and this one is shaping up to be a big styles clash contest with the Wildcats #6 scoring offense up against the #18 scoring defense of the Boilermakers. Purdue will be looking for its first winning season since 2011 with Arizona eager to spin a bowl win into momentum for 2018.
Arizona is listed as a 3.5 point favorite at just about every online betting site. The big movement for this game is associated with the over/under total as the opening 59.5 total has been bet all the way to 65.5 as of the second week of December. Arizona shoulders much of the over/under responsibility as they are a top-10 offense as well as a bottom-10 defense. It seems likely that they will be able to put up a solid portion of their 41.8 points per game average but they could also allow a large chunk of their 34.1 points per game on defense. Despite being the underdog, Purdue is the better team in the Sagarin ratings, coming in at 35th with Arizona at 49th. Those same computers like the Boilers to win this game by a 34-26 score. The S&P+ efficiency metrics have the teams ranked roughly the same with Purdue at 41st and Arizona 49th, about 1.6 points different, although that isnt a direct value in terms of a prediction. This will be the Wildcats fifth bowl in six seasons under Rich Rodriguez while first-year coach Jeff Brohm has Purdue bowl-eligible for the first time since 2012.
Brohm and the Boilers made it to bowl-eligibility by winning three of their last four, including the finale against Indiana and also escaped Kinnick Stadium with a win against Iowa. That win against the Hawkeyes could be their most impressive of the year considering what happened to Ohio State when they took the trip to Woodshed, IA. Purdue hasnt been dynamic under Brohm but you can see the George Seifert and Tony Dungy influence coming through as the Boilers are a very consistent, business-like team. Purdue has a tough defense that is tailored to give a team like Arizona a hard time. The Wildcats are 3rd in the country in rush offense but Purdue is 30th in stopping the run and allows less than 135 yards per game on the ground. The Zona rush attack, averaging 324 yards per game versus the Boiler front seven is the key matchup in this game. Purdue faced some good run units in the Big Ten and stayed close in losses to Wisconsin (17-9) and Northwestern (23-13).
Arizona was facing a potentially irrelevant season after early losses to Houston and Utah but the Cats hit a stride after dual-threat QB Khalil Tate took over. They won four straight with good Ws over UCLA, Cal and Washington State but slipped at the end, losing three of the last four in the PAC-12. Tate is the most dynamic player on the field for this game. He has thrown for 1,289 yards and 9 touchdowns but has run for 1,353 yards (10.2 per carry) with 12 scores. Rich-Rod is a pioneer in the hurry-up/spread run scheme and he has found the right weapon at quarterback. Arizona has accounted for 48 rushing scores as a team with freshman J.J. Taylor teaming up with senior Nick Wilson to form a solid 1-2 punch at the halfback position. Purdue has done well in limiting opponents to a 36.5% conversion rate on third down. They will need to keep Arizona in third-and-medium situations to force them to throw and not simply grind out long drives. With the Cats averaging an NCAA-best 6.8 yards per rush, that will be easier said than done.
We know the strength-on-strength portion of this game is important but if the Arizona O and the Purdue D reach a stalemate, this game will come down to what team can cover its weakness the best. Purdue is 97th in points scored at just 24.2 per game. They are really no better than average in any of the yards gained categories and that puts them in a spot where they have to be ultra-efficient to score. That has not materialized for them this season and their defense is not helping flip the field often either. Elijah Sindelar is playing the best ball of his career with eight touchdown passes and just one interception since the Illinois game. He has 14 touchdowns against 6 picks overall and is the more consistent of the Purdue signal-callers with David Blough representing more of a scrambling threat. Look for a possible package for Blough now that Brohm has roughly a month to install some offensive wrinkles. Anthony Mahoungou is the big playmaker in the Boiler passing game with six scores and a 17 yard per catch average. Markell Jones leads Purdue in rushing (5.2 ypc) but the bottom-line is that there are few big play threats for the Boilermakers. They will have to churn out long drives and earn every score.
They may not find earning it all that hard however as Arizona is about as bad as it gets on defense. The Wildcats best statistic is that they allow 190 rushing yard per game, good for 89th in the country. All other yardage stats are outside the top-100 with passing yards allowed at 122nd out of 130 schools. Arizona is allowing 34.1 points per game and giving up nearly 48% conversions on third down. That is rather tragic statistically and it is made worse by the fact they have only netted 25 sacks on the season. Purdue is limited on offense but they should be able to push past their points per game average with Arizona allowing at least 28 points in each of their last eight games.
I think that playing in the run-first Big Ten helps Purdue. Arizona is going to bring a much different run-look overall but the Boiler front seven has been on notice and responded rather well against some of the best rush offenses in the nation. Kahlil Tate is an exceptional runner but the Purdue defense has been able to bottle up teams, allowing 21 points or less in eight of twelve games overall with only Lousiville and Michigan able to crack 28 points. The Purdue team trend is positive and they are getting more out of their position groups than they did at the beginning of the season. Stopping Tate is key and that is no easy task but I think Purdue limits the Cats to 27 points and finds a way to 28 or 30 on their own. If the money line bet isnt for you, I still think there are several scenarios where Arizona is escaping with a 30-28 kind of win.
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