Greg Hansen: ‘More confident’ Khalil Tate puts on performance for the ages in Wildcats win
In your life have you seen anything like that?
A Tiger Woods chip-in at The Masters, maybe?
A Willie Mays over-the-shoulder catch in the World Series?
No quarterback in the history of college football has ever played a perfect game, not from first snap to last snap, but on Saturday at Folsom Field, Arizona’s Khalil Tate was one pitch away.
It was, according to UA cornerback Jace Whittaker, “electrifying.”
It wasn’t that Tate broke the FBS — an abbreviation that when referring to Tate should hence be known as Fabulous — record by rushing for 327 yards, more than any quarterback in Fabulous history. And it wasn’t that he was 11-for-12 passing, with the only incompletion being a drop by Tyrell Johnson.
It was all of those things and more.
Of the 47 snaps Tate took at quarterback, Arizona was only penalized once, for 5 yards. If he made a mistake, it was not shining his shoes and combing his hair before a postgame press conference after Arizona’s 45-42 victory over Colorado, an outcome of such potential enormity that it creates four scenarios that even the hardiest Wildcat fan couldn’t have imagined 24 hours earlier:
One, it probably sold an extra 10,000 tickets for Saturday’s home game against UCLA.
Two, it might have changed the trajectory of coach Rich Rodriguez’s career.
Three, it could save the athletic department $6 to $8 million in a coaching staff change.
Four, it gives long-long-long-suffering UA football fans a belief that the Quarterback Of The Future wears No. 14 and has at long last arrived.
That’s the truth, Ruth.
Before Saturday’s game, most Arizona football fans weren’t sure if you spelled Khalil Tate’s name with or without the h. The h belongs. It stands for humble.
Tate plays like a pit bull on roller skates, but after Saturday’s game he didn’t say anything that could be re-tweeted or used for a television sound byte.
He was asked if he had ever gained 300 yards in a game, even in high school?
“No,” he said softly. “Maybe. I’m not sure.”
Senior offensive guard Jacob Alsadek described Tate as “reserved, laid back and quiet.”
In many losing football programs, the backup quarterback is the most popular player in the community. But when most of those second-teamers get their chance, you discover why they’ve been sitting on the bench.
Did you have any idea Arizona, or any team, had a quarterback on the bench who could run for 327 yards and complete 11 of 12 passes? As RichRod said, “I was obviously really proud of his composure when he got in there, his game management, and how he was seeing the field.”
Tate passed for 2,036 yards and ran for 2,130 two years ago at Junipero Serra High School in Gardena, California, but the UCLAs and USCs saw him not as a quarterback but as an athlete, which is a football code word for “he can’t pass accurately.”
Tate was a 54 percent passer for the Serra Cavaliers, and it was probably because of that percentage that he became a Wildcat and not a hometown Trojan or Bruin.
A lot of the credit for Tate’s performance should be relayed to RichRod and quarterbacks coach Rod Smith, who have been patient as Tate learned the full playbook and, moreover, didn’t ask him to make low-percentage passes or try to be Aaron Rodgers or someone throwing 30-yard touch patterns.
“I’m more confident,” said Tate. “I have more understanding of the game and am more knowledgeable.”
A year ago, forced to start against USC when he was just 17 years old, Tate had predictable results. He completed 7 of 18 passes for 58 yards. USC’s defensive coaches knew he wasn’t ready to attack a Top 25 defense and took advantage. He did, however, run 14 times for 72 yards, giving UA fans a peak at his astonishing athletic ability.
But as the losses piled up — including an embarrassing 49-24 home setback to Colorado in which Arizona QBs completed just 12 of 26 passes — Tate was remembered for what he couldn’t get done against USC.
On Saturday, it seemed like the Buffaloes never tackled Tate. He had runs of 75, 58, 47, 37, 31 and 28 yards (twice). He was so good that you couldn’t wait for Colorado to get off the field so Tate could get back in.
Can you imagine what Colorado defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot probably told his defensive players at halftime?
“Can anyone in this room tackle No. 14?! He’s started one game in his career and he’s making you look like a Pop Warner team. Stick to your assignments and tackle him. He’s human.”
But on Saturday, Tate seemed to be from another planet.
In the first series of the second half, at the CU 47, after Eliot’s halftime instructions,Tate kept the ball and was boxed in near the line of scrimmage. Two Buffaloes defensive linemen, stutter-stepping, were in the right place — but at the wrong time.
Tate head-faked, then side-stepped both and, whoosh, he was gone for a 47-yard touchdown.
“Could someone please tackle No. 14 for Arizona,” Colorado coach Mike MacIntrye said after the game. “He was amazing. He should be the national Player of the Week. He’s a phenomenal player. We did everything we could. I think they’ve found their quarterback now.”
Two years ago, 2015, Arizona had a quarterback with superior running skills, Jerrard Randall. He had sprinter’s speed and elusive moves and in limited playing time, with two career starts, rushed for 702 yards. Alas, Randall was a 48 percent career passer and 35 pounds lighter than Tate.
Watching Randall, you’d think “what if he could pass, and what if he was bigger and stronger? He’d be lights out.”
On Saturday, Khalil Tate turned the lights out at Folsom Field. For one night, he was as good as it gets.