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6 takeaways from Arizona's win over Washington State

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Another impressive showing by Khalil Tate

Washington State v Arizona Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats won their fourth straight game Saturday, upsetting the No. 15 Washington State Cougars 58-37 in Tucson.

Arizona is now 6-2 overall (4-1 Pac-12), bowl eligible, and just a half game back of the Pac-12 South lead.

And here are some takeaways from Arizona's win.


Khalil Tate responded well to adversity

Khalil Tate hadn't experienced much adversity since taking over as Arizona's quarterback vs. Colorado, but he certainly did Saturday.

The sophomore lost a fumble and was intercepted on consecutive drives, allowing WSU to take a 27-23 lead in the third quarter, despite Arizona leading 20-7 at one point.

However, Tate didn't get rattled and Arizona had four touchdown drives of 65+ yards after that, outscoring WSU 35-10 after the Cougars took the lead.

“It wasn’t by any means a mistake-free (performance), but boy he’s a competitor," said UA head coach Rich Rodriguez. "Once he makes a mistake he recognizes it the next time.”

That's pretty impressive considering Tate just recently turned 19 and he's still only played in a handful of games.

That said, Rodriguez's comment makes it even more disappointing that he removed Tate in the Houston loss after he threw an interception in the fourth quarter (and that Tate wasn't starting at the beginning of the season, of course).


Tate's touch is crazy good

Everyone is quick to point out Tate's speed and elusiveness as a ball carrier, but it's been amazing how on-the-money his deep passes have been.

On the second play of the game, Tate connected with Shawn Poindexter for a deep 42-yard strike.

Later, he hit Tony Ellison on a similar route for 41 yards.

Even some of Tate's incompletions were perfectly placed. Cedric Peterson dropped a deep pass down the far sideline, while another Tate throw was broken up by a defensive back who simply was in perfect position.

More often than not in these last four games, Tate's passes have been on the mark.

“He has a very strong arm, but he has as good of touch on the deep ball as any quarterback that I’ve had," Rodriguez said.

Maybe teams will start respecting that.

WSU seemed to have six to eight players in the box early in the game to commit to slowing down Arizona's run game, but Tate was able to make them pay, connecting on passes down the field.

Eventually WSU had to adjust to that which is when Arizona's running game started to break through in a big way.

“They stopped the run and we opened up the pass, so it’s a lose-lose situation (for them)," Tate said.


Arizona's defense is strange

On one hand, Arizona's defense has been giving up a ton of yards lately. WSU tallied over 600 yards Saturday. The pass rush was non-existant and opposing receivers were able to find space in the secondary — a recurring problem. The tackling wasn't great, either.

But ... Arizona managed to hold a good WSU rushing attack to just 44 yards, and also continued to show its penchant for creating turnovers, specifically interceptions, grabbing four of them Saturday, including a pick-six by Colin Schooler.

Arizona has created 19 turnovers this year, easily surpassing its total from last season, so it definitely has an opportunistic defense.

Arizona also held WSU to 4-18 on third down after Cal was 13-19 last week.

In all, the unit's inconsistency has been maddening and it's seemingly been regressing since its solid start at the beginning of the year.

But it has been doing just enough for Arizona to win, so in that sense there's not a whole lot to complain about.

But we'll see what happens when/if Arizona's offense has an off-game. It's easy to be "good enough" when your offense is putting up video-game numbers week in and week out.


Being bowl eligible is great, but it's only the beginning

Heading into this season, making a bowl game was seen as the No. 1 objective for Arizona — and the way Rodriguez could save his job.

Well, the 6-2 Wildcats are going bowling now and Rodriguez is no longer on the hot seat.

That's wonderful and all (and unexpected, honesty), but it's time to move the bar higher. Perhaps to a Pac-12 South title?

Arizona is only a half game out, and its last four games are at USC, vs. Oregon State, at Oregon, and at ASU.

Three of those four games are on the road, which makes them more difficult, but USC is the only good team in that bunch. There others are just OK or flat-out awful (hey, Oregon State).

The Wildcats rarely win in the Coliseum, but if they somehow do win next week, they would overtake first place in the South with three games left against not-so-scary opponents.

Winning out from there would still obviously be a difficult task, but it's feasible, at least.

Crazy how times have changed, huh?


The future of Arizona football is bright, too

Tate and J.J. Taylor were an outstanding pairing Saturday, combining for 299 yards and three touchdowns on just 27 rushes.

The fun part? Tate is only a sophomore and Taylor is a redshirt freshman, so it's a duo that's here to stay in Tucson.

And then on defense, there's several promising young players like true freshmen Colin Schooler and Tony Fields II — who each had interceptions Saturday — along with Scottie Young Jr. and Kylan Wilborn.

With Tate and Taylor around, Arizona's offense has a chance to be special for the next two years, while the defense should only get better, and who knows what the ceiling is there.

Oh yeah, Arizona also has a true freshman kicker — Lucas Havrisik — who has the leg to sink 50-plus-yard field goals with ease.

However, I think one concerning thing is the offensive line. Arizona hasn't recruited well there lately, and will be losing three starters — Jacob Alsadek, Layth Friekh, and Gerhard de Beer — at season's end, so there could be a substantial drop off next year.

And I think that unit has been a bit overlooked in Arizona's resurgence.


Khalil Tate should be in consideration for the Heisman Trophy

Even though Tate has only been Arizona's No. 1 quarterback for four games, it's not unrealistic to put him in the Heisman conversation at this point.

Since entering at Colorado, Tate is 41 for 58 for 743 yards along with six touchdowns and two interceptions through the air — a 205.54 passing efficiency.

Entering Saturday, that would have been the top number in the entire FBS among qualified quarterbacks.

On the ground, Tate has been even more impressive, rushing for 840 yards and eight touchdowns on just 59 carries. That's a ridiculous 14.2 yards per carry.

And no other player has run for 840 yards in October in the last 10 years.

You could say Tate's numbers have come against weak defenses, but that was only true the first two or three games. Washington State had a top-20 defense entering Saturday's game.

Perhaps equally important for Tate's Heisman candidacy is Arizona is 4-0 since he took over as the team's No. 1 quarterback.

What hurts Tate is he's played fewer games and snaps than other Heisman candidates, plus he's not getting the exposure that he should be because he's played all four of his breakout games on the Pac-12 Networks.

Even so, Tate deserves to be in the Heisman conversation. He's arguably the most electrifying player in the sport right now, even if it has only been four games.

The stats, the wins, and the highlight plays speak for themselves.

“That guy is a monster," said UA tight end Jamie Nunley. "Khalil Tate for Heisman.”


Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire