Khalil Tate has generated a buzz. His record-setting, 327-yard rushing performance at Colorado has put the Arizona Wildcats back in the national conversation. UA-UCLA on Saturday might be the most anticipated home game since the two teams met in September 2015.
Everyone is talking about Tate … who barely notices it.
Speaking to local reporters Wednesday for the first time since last week’s breakout in Boulder, Tate seemed utterly unfazed by all the attention he suddenly is receiving. If he was excited, or nervous, he sure didn’t show it.
“I haven’t really heard a lot of it because I’ve been in the film room,” Tate said, “really just trying to get on to the next week and beat UCLA for the first time in five years.”
Tate’s disposition Wednesday morning, with media members surrounding him inside the lobby of the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility, resembled his on-field demeanor at Colorado. The 18-year-old sophomore acted as though he had been there before.
“He’s not afraid of the big stage,” Arizona quarterbacks coach Rod Smith said. “He’s always saying, ‘I want to be in the spotlight.’ I think that’s one of his big attributes.”
It wasn’t the first time Tate had participated in a media scrum, and Saturday won’t mark his first career start. (The assumption is that Tate will start, anyway. When asked if he expected to, Tate said: “Um, hopefully.”)
But there’s no doubt Tate’s life has changed to some extent. Before the Colorado game, he had no unanswered text messages on his phone. Afterward, he had about 100.
The UA’s sports information department made special accommodations so Tate could be made available to the media Wednesday; offensive players usually talk on Tuesdays, but Tate lifts weights immediately after practice.
After his media address, Tate lingered in the lobby for another 10 minutes to conduct a phone interview with Bleacher Report. After that, he huddled with PR staffers to arrange another interview later in the day.
Given all the attention and potential distractions, Tate’s best course of action is to hole up in the film room with Smith and offensive analyst B.J. Denker. Tate’s sole focus is doing whatever he can to defeat the Bruins — just as it was in Boulder to beat the Buffaloes. He had no idea he had broken the FBS rushing record for quarterbacks until someone told him afterward.
“During the game, I was just trying to get the win,” Tate said. “That’s what my mindset was.”
Tate allowed himself to celebrate, briefly, after his four touchdown runs. Otherwise, every time a TV camera zoomed in on him, he had a blank expression — unaffected by the enormity of the moment or the crowd of nearly 50,000 at Folsom Field screaming at him.
Tate said he always has been calm under pressure. He knows his teammates see how he’s handling stressful situations, and they react accordingly.
“That’s his personality,” UA receivers coach Theron Aych said. “He’s never too high, never too low. We’re yelling and screaming as coaches all the time. Sometimes at the quarterback position you’ve gotta be that. You’ve gotta be that even-keeled guy.
“You have a bad play before? Shrug it off and go onto the next one. I think that’s one thing with Khalil, with his personality, that helps him be successful.”
Perhaps the best way to describe Tate’s temperament is quietly confident. Even after losing the quarterback battle in training camp to Brandon Dawkins — and hurting his shoulder in Week 1 — Tate never stopped believing in himself. But he never campaigned for himself, either.
“I knew what I was capable of,” Tate said. “And I knew if I got the opportunity. I would show it.”
Rosen or run?
UCLA, behind star quarterback Josh Rosen, leads the nation at 435.8 passing yards per game. The Bruins rank 109th in rushing at 115.0 yards per game.
Rosen has attempted at least 45 passes in four of five games, including three with 56 or more. UCLA’s high in rushing attempts is 35 (twice).
Although the main thrust of Arizona’s defensive game plan is to pressure Rosen, the Wildcats can’t assume that pattern will continue. Arizona allowed 300 rushing yards at Colorado, which might have revealed a vulnerability in the UA defense.
“We don’t know,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. “If we don’t stop the run … that’s the easiest thing to do offensively, to run the football. We can’t just say drop eight, drop nine and play the pass. They’re good enough to run the football, too.”
UCLA rushed for 95 yards on 35 carries against Colorado, which surrendered 413 to Arizona. The Bruins’ season high is 170 yards against Memphis. The Wildcats have rushed for 200-plus yards in every game but one (Houston).
- Pro Football Focus named Tate the quarterback on its National Team of the Week.
- Rodriguez again said he never had seen Tate run as fast as he did vs. Colorado. Tate said his weight got up to 222 last year. It’s currently 208.
- Defensive tackle Parker Zellers (ankle) said he was only about 75 percent at Colorado. He rotated in anyway and had four tackles. “I’ll be all right,” he said. “I’m fine.”
- Rodriguez said it’s advantageous to have DeAndre’ Miller back to platoon with Kylan Wilborn at “Stud.” Lots of energy is expended when pass rushing. Having both available gives Arizona fresh bodies.
- Rodriguez on UCLA freshman defensive end Jaelan Phillips: “He’s a freak. Big, physical, great pass rusher. Everybody in the country wanted him.” Phillips (6-5, 255) has a team-high 4.5 tackles for losses in three games.
- UA receiver Darick Holmes Jr. is the older brother of UCLA freshman cornerback Darnay Holmes. “We tried to recruit Darnay,” Rodriguez said, “We know all about him.” Holmes has started all five games for the Bruins and has 16 tackles, two pass breakups and an interception.