In what some think is a make-or-break year for Rich Rodriguez at the University of Arizona, Rodriguez’s Wildcats have taken a big step forward, starting the season 6-2. And with the coach’s job on solid ground, the offense has taken a huge step forward after quarterback Khalil Tate emerged as a capable replacement for injured quarterback Brandon Dawkins. Since Tate entered Arizona’s game against Colorado on October 7, the Wildcats haven’t lost.
Coming off a 58-37 win over 15th-ranked Washington State, Rodriguez’s offense had their most balanced game of the season, with Tate throwing for 275 yards and rushing for 146 more, three total touchdowns helping Tate emerge as one of the below-the-radar stars of the Pac-12. Rodriguez joined The Jim Rome Show on Tuesday and stressed that the best is yet to come from Tate.
“He has certainly given us a lift. He’s still a young guy, just turned 19,” Rodriguez said on CBS Sports Radio. “He’s made some explosive plays for us. He’s kind of taken charge of the offense and the nice part about it is, he’s only going to keep getting better. So it’s a lot of fun to watch.”
The 2014 Pac-12 Coach of The Year said he doesn’t really believe in the theory of a player playing better on game day than in actual practice. But Tate may be the rare case where it actually happens.
“You could see a little of it in practice. But he is seeing the field better in games then we even thought in practice,” Rodriguez said. “He has stayed very calm. He’s always been able to throw the ball. He can run well, he’s not fast fast like some of the guys I’ve had before—Pat White, Denard Robinson—but he can run. He has competitive speed. But he has great touch on the ball. He throws as good a deep ball as anybody I’ve ever had, and he’s shown that he has great touch on it.”
The win over Washington State was especially meaningful. Not just because it was against a ranked opponent, but because it meant Rodriguez could finally turn off the film from 2016, when the Cougars humiliated the Wildcats 69-7.
“It made me want to puke. I had to watch that film all week last week getting ready, and I was like, ‘I can’t wait to we play.’ I’m sick every day,” Rodriguez laughed.
With less than a month to go in the regular season, the Wildcats are in the hunt for a division title heading into this weekend’s game against USC. It’s a complete turnaround from the team that went just 3-9 last year and was picked to finish last in the Pac-12 this year, a slight that has served as motivation.
“You understand why—you were terrible last year,” Rodriguez said. “You had 47 freshmen. I mean, who knows about any of these guys. And so the whole season I said we should be playing with a chip on our shoulder. There’s a lot of games left on it, but we need to keep that chip. And I think by judging by the way our guys have approached this week in itself, they’re keeping a chip on our shoulder.”