When Brandon Dawkins exited with an injury on Arizona’s opening drive, some Wildcat fans were getting exactly what they were wishing for throughout the bye week — Khalil Tate at quarterback.
And the sophomore showed why, though not even Tate’s most ardent fans could have predicted what happened Saturday.
Tate had a game for the record books, breaking the FBS quarterback rushing record in a 45-42 win over the Colorado Buffaloes in Boulder, Colo.
Tate ran for 327 yards on just 14 carries, accounted for five touchdowns (four rushing, one passing), and completed 11 of 12 passes for 142 yards.
Tate ran for touchdowns of 58, 28, 47, and 75 yards and completed passes at all three levels, including a 60-yard deep ball to Tony Ellison. His only incompletion was an accurate throw that Tyrell Johnson couldn’t handle.
It was all needed, too, as Arizona’s defense, which had been a bright spot through the first four games, surrendered 551 yards, including 281 rushing yards to CU running back Phillip Lindsay.
Arizona was ahead 21-14 at half, and led the entire second half, but Lindsay tallied his third rushing touchdown with 5:04 left in the fourth quarter to make it a 45-42 game.
Needing a few first downs to ice the game, Tate found Bryce Wolma for a third-down conversation, then Tate carried a few defenders for another first down to seal Arizona’s first Pac-12 win.
Rich Rodriguez was asked after the game if Arizona had found its starting quarterback, but he dodged the question.
But that’s OK, because Tate’s performance had already answered for him.
First half recap
Behind Khalil Tate, Arizona’s offense was basically flawless when it wasn’t shooting itself in the foot.
The Wildcats scored three touchdowns on five drives, and their two non-scoring drives ended because Shun Brown fumbled in the red zone (it appeared the ground caused the fumble) and Tyrell Johnson dropped an accurate pass outside the numbers on third down in Colorado territory.
Tate accounted for all three of Arizona’s first-half touchdowns. On his first full drive, he ran one in from 58 yards out. On his second drive, he had a 28-yard rushing touchdown.
Later in the half, he connected with Brown on a 13-yard pass to cap a three-play, 68-yard drive that took just 56 seconds to give Arizona a 21-14 lead at the break.
Tate was 6-7 for 53 yards to go along with 125 rushing yards on just five carries.
Arizona’s defense tallied four sacks in the first half, but got bullied on the ground. Phillip Lindsay had 22 carries for 111 yards and two touchdowns (yes, those are only his first-half stats).
And when Steven Montez did have time, he was able to find open receivers, going 10-14 for 133 yards in the first half.
After Tate’s TD pass to Brown with 1:23 left, Colorado drove to the UA 33, but poor clock management forced them to settle for a 50-yard field goal attempt, which was no good.
Though Arizona led by seven at halftime, they probably should have led by more, since Brown’s fumble and Johnson’s drop likely took points off the board.
Second half recap
Arizona forced a three-and-out to open the half, then Tate did some more ridiculous things, weaving his way for a 47-yard touchdown to put the Wildcats up 28-14.
Colorado answered with a long 15-play, 75-yard touchdown drive ending with a seven-yard catch by Bryce Bobo to make it 28-21 with 7:13 left in the third.
Tate and the Wildcats answered with a 12-play, 75-yard drive, capped by a one-yard touchdown run by Zach Green.
Tate ran for 38 yards on the drive, becoming the first Arizona quarterback to ever run for 200-plus yards.
But Arizona’s defense struggled to contain Lindsay, and CU reeled off another long drive, topped off by a two-yard jump pass TD by Montez to cut UA’s lead to 35-28.
Tate then ran for a 75-yard touchdown, but Colorado matched it with a 6-play, 75-yard drive, as Montez tossed a 39-yard touchdown pass another touchdown pass to Chris Bounds, making it 42-35.
But, in typical fashion in this high-scoring game, Tate started the subsequent drive with a bomb down the middle of the field to Ellison for 60 yards.
However, UA’s drive stalled and the Wildcats had to settle for a 24-yard field goal to make it 45-35 with roughly eight minutes left.
Lindsay broke a run to start CU’s next drive, then Montez threw a deep ball to the end zone, but Jace Whittaker broke the play up to save a touchdown.
On 4th and 3 from the UA 33, Lindsay burst through the middle for 11 yards. Lindsay would score a few plays later to make it 45-42, but the Buffs wouldn’t get another possession as Tate and company picked up enough first downs to burn the final few minutes off the clock.
The Wildcats (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) return to action next Saturday when they host UCLA.
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire