Rodriguez: Arizona’s success not all about Khalil Tate’s legs

Oct 30, 2017, 3:06 PM | Updated: 3:18 pm
Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate warms up before an NCAA college football game against Arizona, Satu...
Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate warms up before an NCAA college football game against Arizona, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
LISTEN: Rich Rodriguez, UA football head coach

Arizona is ranked. The Wildcats’ 58-37 win over No. 15 Washington State kept them in the chase for the Pac-12 South with a matchup with division leader USC looming this Saturday.

Sophomore Khalil Tate gets a lot of the credit for all that.

He’s been thrust into Heisman talk simply because Arizona has gone 4-0 since he took over for former starting quarterback Brandon Dawkins on Oct. 7 against Colorado.

The numbers back it up, too.

“The numbers he’s putting up, I think it’s OK to have that conversation,” UA coach Rich Rodriguez told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “Right now, I think he’s one of the most exciting players in college football to watch.”

A lot of that has to do with his feet.

Tate has eight runs of 40 or more yards and four of 70-plus. He leads Division I schools in yards per carry, besting the No. 2 rusher, Stanford’s Bryce Love, by more than three yards per rush.

But for the 6-2 Wildcats, it’s more than that.

Recently, Arizona has kept its offense a step ahead of the competition by using Tate’s legs against opponents. He’s burned defenses just as badly with his arm.

By passing statistics alone, Tate has put together elite numbers despite throwing the ball just 14.5 times per game in the last four games.

Saturday against WSU, Tate threw for 275 yards, completing 10-of-17 passes for two touchdowns and a pick (the interception came off a deflected pass that should have been caught by Arizona’s Shawn Poindexter).

Comparing his quarterback ratings to past Heisman winners, Tate’s numbers hold up.

Of dual-threat quarterbacks who rushed for at least 500 rushing yards and 500 passing yards with a completion percentage of 65, he stacks up against some of the best recent college quarterbacks.

“The biggest thing he needed was experience,” Rodriguez said. “But he’s seeing the field really well for a guy that’s really only made a few starts and is still a young guy — he’s seeing the field pretty well. There were some mistakes in that game and we know he’s going to have some.

“When you run as well as he can … if you can execute some of the play-action game, you’ve got a chance to get some big shots. What he’s been able to do is hit those.”

Tate’s growth as a quarterback will be put to the test on Saturday against a Trojans team with many Los Angeles area players who know the Junipero Serra High School product well.

Rodriguez expects USC to load the box, stop the run and make Tate make plays with his arm.

“They’ll put linebackers up there and load the box a little bit,” Rodriguez said. “They’re confident enough in their corners and man coverage.”

Not all Khalil

Arizona has made strides other than harnessing Tate’s ability to create explosive plays out of nothing.

Take freshman linebacker Colin Schooler as an example. After winning the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honor for his 15 tackles, forced fumble and game-saving pass breakup against Cal a week prior, he returned an interception for a 66-yard touchdown against the Cougars.

“Defensively, just the fact that they’re competing. There’s still a lot of young guys,” Rodriguez said. “We gave up a lot of yards and a lot of points, but they keep battling. If a team’s driving on us and getting in the red zone, we’re still making a play or making them execute.”

Special teams honor

Freshman placekicker Lucas Havrisik won the Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week honor for booting nine of 10 kickoffs for touchbacks against Washington State.

He also hit a 57-yard field goal to end the first half in his second career kick. That tied a school record.

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Rodriguez: Arizona’s success not all about Khalil Tate’s legs