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Controversial play contributes to Wildcats demise against Purdue

Arizona+football+head+coach+Rich+Rodriguez+started+the+season+on+the+hot+seat%3B+after+a+7-5+campaign+and+an+invitation+to+the+Foster+Farms+Bowl%2C+he+has+solidified+his+position+on+campus+for+next+season.
Heather Newberry
Arizona football head coach Rich Rodriguez started the season on the hot seat; after a 7-5 campaign and an invitation to the Foster Farms Bowl, he has solidified his position on campus for next season.

SANTA CLARA, Calif.–Despite all the drama at the conclusion of Wednesday night’s 38-35 Foster Farms Bowl win for the Purdue Boilermakers over the Arizona Wildcats, an unusual and controversial first half play may have made as important a difference in the game as either of the late fourth quarter touchdowns.

With 56 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Purdue set up in a kneel down formation. Quarterback Elijah Sindelar looked as though he would kneel down to run the remaining seconds off the clock. Instead, Sindelar faked the kneel and handed off to running back D.J. Knox, who ran around the left side for a 30-yard gain.

The run catalyzed a Purdue drive that ended in a field goal, stretching the Boilermakers’ lead to 31-14 at the end of the half. 

Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez expressed his displeasure with the way the play was handled.

“That was a little tricky play, but what happens a lot of time on a kneel down, when they get in their formation, and an official will tell a defense not to rush,” Rodriguez said. “Don’t, you know, they’re taking a knee, don’t rush…and so they told our defensive guy, one of the officials told our guys, ‘They’re taking a knee, don’t rush. Just stand there.’ And so (we) complied with that, and (Purdue) ran a little tricky play.

Because of the comment one of the officials made to the Arizona player, Rodriguez thinks the play should’ve been ruled a dead ball. 

“My argument would be, if our guys are complying with, if it’s an official’s error, which in my opinion it was, then it’s a no play,” Rodriguez said. “Maybe I don’t know the rules, but if you follow, if you comply with what an official does…correct it. That’s my opinion.”

The run was hardly the only big play the Wildcats surrendered, but the field goal at the end of half proved to be the margin of victory for Purdue. In total, Purdue gained 555 total yards on the Wildcats defense.

After surrendering 31 points and 349 total yards in the first half, the Wildcats’ defense stiffened up in the second, forcing three Purdue three-and-outs and holding the Boilermakers scoreless under the final minutes.

Two quick third quarter touchdowns from Arizona reduced the deficit to 31-28. The two defenses controlled the line of scrimmage from then on until late in the fourth quarter.

Quarterback Khalil Tate and the Arizona offense regained possession with 5:47 remaining in the final period, and finally were able to drive the ball down the field. A seven-play, 67-yard drive culminated in a 24-yard touchdown pass from Tate to wide-open wide receiver Shun Brown.

For a moment, it appeared that the improved second half defensive intensity from the Wildcats would be rewarded with a win. But Sindelar and Purdue’s offense regained the ball with 3:21 remaining, and started to move downfield. 

Their drive ended with a contested touchdown 38-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver Anthony Mahoungou who caught the ball behind the back of defensive back Lorenzo Burns in impressive fashion.

Tate and Arizona still had 1:44 of game clock to work with, but after two incomplete passes, Tate’s third down pass was intercepted by Purdue safety Jacob Thieneman.

Purdue ended any chance of hope for an Arizona comeback on the first play of the ensuing drive when Knox evaded Arizona’s oncoming defenders and gained a first down. Left with just two timeouts to stop the clock from running out, the Wildcats were helpless as Sindelar kneeled down three consecutive times to do just that.

Whether the 31 first half points given up, the late Purdue touchdown, Tate late interception, or anything else caused the loss is open to interpretation.

But according to Rodriguez, there’s also a different, more simple way to look at it.

“They made one more play than we did at the end to win,” he said.


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