Throughout the preseason, Kevin Sumlin repeatedly warned that he wouldn’t know exactly what he had to work with until he could see the Arizona Wildcats compete in an actual game.
Now that he’s gotten that first contest under his belt there’s at least one thing he understands for certain: Khalil Tate’s running ability needs to play more of a factor into the offense.
“We certainly have to do a better job schematically to get him more involved with his legs,” Sumlin said Tuesday on the weekly Pac-12 coaches teleconference. “It’s something we’ve taken a really hard look at. It can only help to get his legs more involved in the offense.”
No duh, right?
After all, it was Tate’s running last season that completely turned things around for the Wildcats. Before he stepped in for an injured Brandon Dawkins on the first series of the Oct. 7 game at Colorado, Arizona was 2-2 and lacking any offensive identity, then Tate ran for an FBS quarterback-record 327 yards against the Buffaloes and seemingly never stopped running.
It seemed like a given that Sumlin and new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone wouldn’t fix what wasn’t broke. At the very least they’d make sure any attempts to develop Tate’s passing skills wouldn’t hamper his best attribute.
Yet against BYU the junior managed just 14 rushing yards, his fewest as a starter, on eight carries. The number of designed runs were minimal and even less frequent were times when Tate took off either because of pressure in the pocket or because the coverage downfield was too tight.
Tate threw 34 times, one short of his career high. And while many of those throws came with Arizona trailing in the second half the pass-first approach was evident from the outset.
Running back JJ Taylor said Tuesday he wasn’t surprised that Tate didn’t run that much against BYU, saying he “did what he was supposed to do as a quarterback.” At the same time, though, he knows how much Tate’s running can help the rest of Arizona’s skill players.
“It opens up everything in our offense once Khalil starts to get going,” Taylor said. “You have defensive players focusing on him and it opens up everybody.”
The more teams have to focus on Tate’s legs the less they can pay attention to the receivers, slot Tony Ellison noted.
“It opens it up for us because last year we had a lot of one-on-one opportunities,” he said. “That’s how teams are going to play us.”