Khalil Tate admitted he didn’t take conditioning that seriously as a true freshman last season, and vowed to improve in that area as a sophomore.
His record-breaking performance vs. Colorado, in the altitude no less, was evidence of his progress.
“That’s as fast as I’ve seen Khalil run,” head coach Rich Rodriguez said. “I think he’s about 15-20 pounds lighter than he was last year, so he’s in better shape and he’s running faster and he’s got to continue that.”
After entering for an injured Brandon Dawkins, Tate ran for 327 yards, breaking the FBS quarterback rushing record. It wasn’t just his speed that stood out, but his elusiveness, vision, and ability to shed tackles, too.
“You rarely see that one arm will get him down,” Rodriguez said. “His speed and acceleration when he did see the hole was the best I’ve ever seen from him. Sometimes you worry about your backup being in as good of shape as the starter, and even with the so-called high elevation, I know he was tired after he scored but he recovered pretty quickly.”
Tate broke runs for 58, 28 (twice), 37, 47, and 75 yards, and avoided big hits, which have gotten him injured in the past.
“It’s about running smart,” Rodriguez said. “There was even one time where he broke open and probably could have kept running if he trusted his speed, and made some moves. He’s a very athletic guy, and I thought what he did well in both the times we passed and ran the ball was that he saw the field exceptionally well. That’s always something he’s been pretty good at, but that was the best I’ve seen him in practice or the games. It led to a big-time performance.”
After a late stat correction, Tate finished 12 of 13 for 154 yards and a touchdown through the air.
“Some of the passes were easy for short yardage and run adjustments, but the deep ball he threw at the end was a nice touch,” Rodriguez said. “I thought his decision making was very sharp. He was very composed throughout the whole game and saw the field well. For a guy who hasn’t played much, I was really impressed how he handled the game like a veteran.”
The deep ball Rodriguez was referring to was a 60-yard pass to Tony Ellison down the middle of the field.
Khalil Tate ran for 327 yards, yes, but don't forget about this throw pic.twitter.com/jNCvkBIJoB— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) October 8, 2017
“It was a three-man route and they brought everybody,” Rodriguez said. “He wanted to take a shot with a play-action deep ball. Both the deep options were open, and he connected on one.
“Some people didn’t know he had an arm, but he does have a strong arm and can throw it 80 yards. For a guy who has that strong of an arm, he has always had a good touch. It is just a matter of him continuing to grow with our offense. He was very accurate on Saturday and his vision was outstanding for a guy who hasn’t played much.”
Rodriguez said Tate’s dual-threat performance was akin to those that Denard Robinson and Pat White used to have at Michigan and West Virginia, respectively.
“Denard had one game against Notre Dame where he had a couple hundred rushing and a couple hundred passing, and then Pat White had some unbelievable games. Khalil may tell you he’s as fast as them, I don’t think he is, but he can run pretty well,” Rodriguez said.
“It was certainly a dominating performance and it came and the right time.”
The Arizona Wildcats escaped Boulder win a 45-42 win, needing all of Tate’s production to improve to 3-2.
Tate earned a slew of National Player of the Week awards, and was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week, even drawing the attention of LeBron James.
For some 18-year-olds like Tate, all that praise may go to their head, but Rodriguez isn’t worried about that.
“It’s not going to change him or change who we are, but I also think it’s kind of neat for guys to get recognition in your program,” he said. “It brings some recognition to him and his family, but certainly to our program too.
“It’s a fun deal, but if I was worried it would change a guy, I would sit down and talk to him. I don’t think we have anyone that would change, and certainly not Khalil.”
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire