SALT LAKE CITY — Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate isn’t running like he did a year ago. The junior, who is battling a sore ankle, has rushed for just 109 yards through six games. Last season, he netted 1,411 yards on the ground.
Despite the drop, Utah coaches are wary of Tate’s explosiveness. In 2017, he averaged 9.2 yards per carry and once broke free for 82 yards. This time around, Tate’s season-long rush is 21 yards. He’s averaging only 2.5 per attempt.
“They’ve chosen not to run him as much but he is still as dynamic and as capable as ever,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “And so, yeah, he is something that you’ve always got to be aware of and have that in the back of your mind as a ‘D’ coordinator — that the QB run game is going to be a threat as long as he’s in the game.”
Although Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin told reporters at his weekly press conference that “Khalil hasn’t been 100 percent,” the Utes are gearing up otherwise.
Utah linebacker Cody Barton noted that Tate is a great athlete and an explosive runner.
“He has the ability. We all know he has the ability and so whether he runs or no, we’re going to be ready for it,” Barton said. “They’ve got a good team. They’re a bunch of good athletes and so we’re going to be ready for anything.”
In last Saturday’s 24-17 win over California, Arizona gave Tate a break and put freshman quarterback Jamarye Joiner in for a series. It’s part of a plan to gain experience for others in case Tate ever gets sidelined by his injury.
Defenses have also adjusted to Tate not running as much. BYU held him to 14 yards on eight carries in the season opener. Over the first four games of the season, Tate had 32 yards rushing. He’s had 78 over the past two outings.
“It was very obvious against BYU what their plan was with a spy and how they were determined to keep him in the pocket — even running — just by guys coming up the field and stopping on the edge and the spy in the middle,” Sumlin said. “We saw that for a couple of weeks, even against Houston. So as you start to develop some other things in your running game and some other attacks, you’re seeing different defenses now. He’s just got to take advantage of what he sees.”
The Wildcats (3-3, 2-1) do have weapons other than Tate. Sophomore running back J.J. Taylor has 600 yards rushing this season. Senior wide receivers Shun Brown (27 catches) and Shawn Poindexter (21 catches) are notable performers as well.
“Obviously, their quarterback is a talented kid, their running back is very good and they have a couple of good receivers,” Whittingham said. “So we have our work cut out for us. They are coming off a nice victory over Cal, so we will line up Friday night and see where we are at."
Defensively, Arizona sophomore linebacker Colin Schooler leads the Pac-12 with 11.5 tackles for loss. The Wildcats scored two touchdowns off of interceptions against the Bears.
Under Sumlin, who replaced the fired Rich Rodriguez, Arizona opened the season with losses to BYU (28-23) and Houston (45-18). Since then, the Wildcats have won three of their last four games. The run of success includes triumphs over Southern Utah (62-31), Oregon State (35-14) and Cal. Their lone Pac-12 setback was a 24-20 decision to USC in Tucson on Sept. 29.
"As the coaching changes take hold and get some traction throughout the season, I think you start to see more of what their true capabilities are," Whittingham said.
Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate
Rushing Att. Yards Avg. Long
2017 153 1,411 9.2 82
2018 44 109 2.5 21
Passing Comp. Att. Yards TDs Ints.
2017 111 179 1,591 14 9
2018 94 174 1,412 11 4
Arizona (3-3, 2-1) at Utah (3-2, 1-2)
Friday, 8 p.m.
Radio: ESPN 700AM