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Rich Rodriguez explains why Khalil Tate wasn’t Arizona’s starting quarterback

Brandon Dawkins was better in fall camp, and Tate had a shoulder injury

NCAA Football: UCLA at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

For the second time in as many weeks, Khalil Tate has been named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week.

The sophomore quarterback has tallied 859 yards of total offense in the last two games, leading the Arizona Wildcats to wins over the Colorado Buffaloes and UCLA Bruins.

Tate has taken the college football world by storm, yet somehow wasn’t Arizona’s starting quarterback at the start of the season.

That was Brandon Dawkins who started the first five games and struggled mightily in losses to Houston and Utah.

Tate played a little bit in the Houston game, but didn’t get significant playing time until Dawkins got injured in the first quarter against Colorado.

Why did it take so long?

“I understand the question,” head coach Rich Rodriguez answered Monday.

“Frankly, he was a young guy still learning. Brandon played better in August camp and at the start of the season. Then Khalil — it sounds like coach is making a reason — but he got hurt.”

Tate suffered a shoulder injury early in the season and could hardly throw for about three weeks, Rodriguez said.

Thus, Tate wasn’t able to play (or start) against Utah when Dawkins was scuffling.

But that wasn’t exactly public knowledge since Tate wasn’t on the injury report during that span.

“Oh he wasn’t? How about that,” Rodriguez quipped. “He had a dinged up shoulder. He probably could have been on the report, but why put it on there?”

Rodriguez said Tate was finally healthy for the Colorado game.

“When he got his opportunity, he’s made the most of it,” Rodriguez said. “I’m not totally surprised that he’s performing really well, but at the same time, this is this healthiest he’s been in a month and he’s actually playing better than we anticipated he would, particularly running-wise. He’s running away from people.”

Tate, 20 pounds lighter than a season ago, ran for 327 yards against Colorado, an FBS record for a quarterback, then rushed for 230 yards against UCLA.

All while completing 21 of his 26 pass attempts for 302 yards and two touchdowns.

Rodriguez has said it’s the best he’s ever seen Tate play, which explains how he could have thought Dawkins was the better player at the start of the season.

“He’s run faster than I thought,” Rodriguez said of Tate Monday.

Tate had issues learning the playbook last year as a 17-year-old freshman — possibly another reason why he didn’t earn the starting quarterback job this offseason — but Rodriguez said Tate knows “a lot more” of it this season.

And Rodriguez mentioned Arizona will continue to expand its offense, and he won’t “put the brakes” on Tate’s emergence.

“His best football is still out in front of him,” Rodriguez said. “He’s still learning. We’re not going to expect 200 yards or 300 yards rushing and whatever his quarterback rating is every week, but I love the way his mindset is right now and how he’s taking charge of his opportunity.”

And after taking advantage of that opportunity in his first start vs. UCLA, Tate found Rodriguez after the game and said, “I told you, coach.”

Told him what? That he should’ve been Arizona’s quarterback all along?

Rodriguez wouldn’t divulge.

“A lot of things are best unsaid,” he joked. “I’m proud of him. He’s been wanting a shot and he had to earn it. When he got healthy, he earned it and made the most of it so far.”

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire