It only took Johnny Manziel a few weeks to be discovered as “Johnny Football”, running around the field, throwing defensive plans out of whack, winning the Heisman Trophy while leading Texas A&M to a well-respected season which included a marquee win over Alabama and the Cotton Bowl.
In 2008, the Miami Dolphins incorporated the Wildcat offense to throw the New England Patriots off balance and it seemed to work on the rest of their opponents on their way to the playoffs.
The Arizona Wildcats seem to have the best of both in quarterback Khalil Tate.
The Wildcats were running the run-heavy read option offense throughout the season. It was an offense that throughout the past two seasons screamed “WE DON’T HAVE A QUARTERBACK!” In my previous column, I coined the line that Arizona doesn’t have any quarterbacks, just a few who play one on TV.
And in the three games since the switch from Brandon Dawkins to Tate, it’s seemingly obvious that the Wildcats still don’t have a traditional quarterback like Sam Darnold of USC or Josh Rosen of UCLA. However, the results from the current three-game winning streak show that no longer matters.
The Cal football Twitter account bragged about their secondary’s knack for intercepting the ball in an infographic that came with the caption, “Don’t try it.” The Bears lead the Pac-12 in interceptions, but because Tate is out there looking like a satirical version of Michael Vick — emphasizing his running ability far more than his throwing capacity — the joke was on them.
Head coach Rich Rodriguez can run an offense in which Tate can have 110 more yards rushing this season than Dawkins has passing, and yet, score 45 points in each of the past three games.
Tate is 16th in the nation in rushing yards. He’s fourth among quarterbacks, and if you don’t count the service academies (since all they do is run anyway), Tate is second to only Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson’s 868 running yards.
It leaves one to wonder if Tate was the quarterback from the start, would he have the stats to warrant a Heisman campaign? In three games, he already has more rushing yards than Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, a Heisman frontrunner.
This is the type of performance that makes you wonder about the future. Arizona’s losses to Houston and Utah feel like a distant memory now. Returning to a bowl game went from a pipe dream to now almost certain reality.
But standing at 5-2 and half a game back for the Pac-12 South lead, is seeing Arizona projected to play in the Las Vegas Bowl or Cactus Bowl or even the Sun Bowl feel satisfactory for the Wildcat fan?
Washington State and USC represent the top tests for the Wildcats. Given the newfound offensive powers, Arizona can win these games and thus the thought of running the table against Oregon State, Oregon and Arizona State is within reach.
It’s a real shoot for the moon, land in the stars situation.
Whether Arizona can keep this up or not, at least the Wildcats are no longer boring.