Purdue slips past Arizona for high-scoring bowl win
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- What was hyped as a showcase for Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate turned out to be a landmark win for Purdue.
Purdue let a 17-point halftime lead slip away, but a 38-yard touchdown pass from Elijah Sindelar to Anthony Mahoungou with 1:44 left in the fourth quarter provided the winning points in the Boilermakers’ 38-35 victory over Arizona in the Foster Farms Bowl at Levi’s Stadium Wednesday night.
Purdue safety Jacob Thieneman then intercepted a pass by Arizona’s Khalil Tate to put the game way.
A controversial trick play late in the first half helped Purdue (7-6) finish the season with a three-game winning streak, and it posted its first winning season since 2011 and only its second winning campaign in the past 10 years.
“It’s a huge difference,” said first-year Purdue coach Jeff Brohm, who inherited a team that had not won more than three games in any of the previous four seasons. “We want to have a winning season. We want to win a bowl game. We made it a little interesting at the end, but we found a way to win and I couldn’t be prouder.”
The Wildcats (7-6) ended the season on a three-game losing streak. Arizona, which entered the game ranked third nationally in rushing at 324.4 yards per game, had a season-low 128 yards on the ground.
Tate, a sophomore who had the look of a 2018 Heisman Trophy candidate after rushing for 1,353 yards during the regular season, had only 58 yards on the ground, but completed 17 of 26 passes for 302 yards and five touchdowns -- three more than his previous season high -- and the one interception.
“His best football is out in front of him,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said of Tate, who did not become the team’s No. 1 quarterback until the fifth game. “That’s what’s excited.”
Purdue’s D.J. Knox turned out to be the leading rusher in the game, collecting 101 yards and a touchdown on only 11 carries.
But Sindelar was the game’s star and was named the offensive player of the game. He completed 33 of 53 passes for 396 yards, four touchdowns and one interception, which came on a tipped pass. He had 11 touchdown passes and two picks over the final four games.
“The way he finished the season is outstanding,” Brohm said.
Gregory Phillips had 14 catches for 149 yards and two touchdowns for the Boilermakers. Mahoungou made six catches for 118 yards and two scores.
The end of the first half included trickery and some debate.
With Purdue ahead 28-14, Tate appeared to have a first down at the Arizona 32-yard line with 56 seconds left in the half. But Purdue called timeout just before the next play was run, giving officials time to review the play and rule that Tate had fumbled the ball, giving Purdue possession at its 32.
Purdue then lined up as if it would take a knee to run out the clock, but Sindelar instead handed the ball to a squatting T.J. Knox, who skirted left end for a 30-yard gain. The Boilermakers ended that drive with Spencer Evans’ 26-yard field goal and a 31-14 lead.
Rodriguez had complaints about the trick play.
“One of the officials said (to our defense), ‘They’re taking a knee. Don’t rush.’ We complied,” Rodriguez said. “If you comply with an official, it’s an official’s error and it’s no play.”
“It was a very legal play,” Brohm said.
The Wildcats reduced the 31-14 halftime deficit to 31-21 on a 40-yard scoring pass from Tate of Tony Ellison early in the third period.
Arizona got closer when an interception by Scottie Young Jr. paved the way for Tate’s 40-yard touchdown throw to Tyrell Johnson. The TD made it a 31-28 game with 6:31 to go in the third quarter.
Arizona took a 35-31 lead with 3:21 left in the fourth quarter when Tate found Shun Brown wide open in the end zone for a 24-yard scoring pass.
That set up Purdue’s final winning drive, an eight-play, 75-yard march that provided the Boilermakers’ only points of the second half.
NOTES: Arizona QB Khalil Tate entered the game averaging 10.2 yards per rushing attempt, which led the nation. ... Purdue RB Markell Jones rushed for 217 yards in a 31-24 victory over Indiana in the final regular-season game, which made the Boilermakers bowl-eligible. ... Arizona LB Tony Fields II finished with 13 tackles, while LB Markus Bailey had 11 for Purdue. ... This was Purdue’s first bowl victory since 2011.