Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate shares a vision with coach Rich Rodriguez.
Like any quarterback-coach relationship, that vision extends from the film room to the field. It’s seeing how a defensive end crashes on a zone read, or how a linebacker cheats into the wrong gap. That vision constantly hunts for the right read that could spring something big.
How big? You saw Tate peek over to the sideline, clap his hands, take a snap, make that read then dash 49 yards for game-sealing touchdown in a 58-37 victory against Washington State on Oct. 28, right? Tate waved one arm in the air, then the other, and that continueda month-long celebration that unearthed the breakout star of the 2017 college football season.
When the vision is clear, it happens like that. With Tate in Rodriguez’s offense, it happens a lot more.
The sophomore quarterback’s endless October highlight reel attracted attention from Heisman Trophy voters to LeBron James. Tate piled up 840 rushing yards, 743 passing yards with 14 total touchdowns. He was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week a record-four times while leading No. 23 Arizona to four straight victories. Now, the Wildcats are in position to take control of the Pac-12 South at 10:45 p.m. ET on Saturday in a prime-time matchup against USC that’s worth staying up late to watch. Who would have thought Tate would be every bit the headliner as Sam Darnold at this point?
“I’m surprised because at the beginning of this year I was pretty much a nobody,” Tate told Sporting News on Wednesday. “A lot of people knew about me back home, but they didn’t know what I was doing in college. I didn’t play a lot last year. I’m starting to become somebody who was under the radar but now is starting to excel. I’m having a lot of fun.”
Fun. That’s the best way to describe Tate’s arrival. He replaced an injured Brandon Dawkins on Oct. 7 against Colorado and rushed for 125 yards by halftime. Tate finished with an FBS-quarterback single-game-record 327 rushing yards a few hours later. That has led to four straight wins, and one subtle change in the vision between quarterback and coach — a slight difference in the film room and the field.
“It seems like he’s smiling a lot more these past four weeks than I’ve seen before,” Tate said. “That’s saying something.”
Rodriguez has been down this route before. Six quarterbacks in FBS history have more than 4,000 career rushing yards, and two of them are Rodriguez prodigies. West Virginia’s Pat White (4,480 rushing yards) and Michigan’s Denard Robinson (4,495 rushing yards) enjoyed the same rise to stardom for one simple reason.
It’s awesome when a quarterback makes the right read and takes it the house. It’s the ultimate weapon in Rodriguez’s offense, and Tate continues to unleash it with rapid success.
In just four starts and a few mop-up appearances, Tate has compiled 15 runs of 20 yards or more. Seven of his eight touchdowns are or 40 yards or more, and that includes three from 70-plus yards. The average Tate touchdown run covers 56 yards. It’s viral highlight after viral highlight, and it doesn’t go unnoticed. Rodriguez remembers going through this process with White and Robinson.
“You have to be mindful of that once they start getting a lot of attention,” Rodriguez said on the Pac-12 teleconference on Tuesday. “Is it changing their demeanor? Is it changing the way they work? Those guys are all just like Khalil; the kind that it didn’t matter. It was all about winning. Their demeanor never changed. Khalil is the same way. Just in the last few weeks, he hasn’t changed his personality or the way he has worked. We haven’t had to change anything in that regard.”
Tate remembers watching White and Robinson, star quarterbacks during the BCS era, players who provided excitement under Rodriguez’s tutelage. Both have a place in college football lore, like most rushing QBs do on this top-10 career list.
“I just remember them being super excited any time they would make the big play happen,” Tate said. “That’s starting to come to fruition here.”
|TOP 10 RUSHING QUARTERBACKS||YARDS|
|Keenan Reynolds, Navy||4,559|
|Denard Robinson, Michigan||4,495|
|Pat White, West Virginia||4,480|
|Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois||4,343|
|Brad Smith, Missouri||4,193|
|Colin Kaepernick, Nevada||4,112|
|Antwaan Randle-El, Indiana||3,895|
|Joshua Cribbs, Kent State||3,670|
|Dee Dowis, Air Force||3,612|
|Kareem Wilson, Ohio||3,597|