Khalil Tate’s fourth quarter was the equivalent of a bricklayer finishing the work on a grand foundation: He handed off 17 times, ran the ball once for six yards and passed once for 44 yards.
There was no last-minute suspense, there were no more 71-yard touchdown runs, no more 53-yard passes through the eye of a UCLA needle.
As he punched out for the night, Arizona’s long and bitter humiliation by the Bruins was gone.
The foundation has been set; Arizona’s football future hasn’t looked this good for 10 years.
Khalil Tate was the best player on the field Saturday, and keep in mind that UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen was on the field, and some consider him the No. 1 overall choice in next spring’s NFL draft.
Before Tate could leave the turf, he was embraced by his coach Rich Rodriguez, and then by UCLA coach Jim Mora, who grabbed Tate by the shoulder pads and spoke into the ear-hole of his helmet for 15 or 20 seconds.
Can you imagine the conversation?
“Look, man, you probably got me fired tonight but as a football coach I must tell you how much I admired your performance. Keep it up. The sky’s the limit.”
Or something like that.
Tate was as good in Saturday’s resounding 47-30 victory over UCLA as he was a week earlier in Colorado, and if he gets any better — or if he just stays the same — anything is possible in the year’s final six games.
As Tate finally left the field at Arizona Stadium, he met UA quarterbacks coach Rod Smith at the 10-yard line. Smith embraced the sophomore QB, and then asked his wife to take a photo of the two of them together, arm-in-arm.
As soon as the photo shoot ended, RichRod returned and again gave Tate another hug. It’s only two weeks, two games — two sorely needed victories — but there hasn’t been this much attention given a UA football player since the days of Tedy Bruschi.
“I’m the same person; I haven’t changed,” Tate said in a post-game interview session.
Maybe Tate hasn’t changed, but everything around him has.
“There’s been an infusion of some young and exciting players,” RichRod said. “When we needed a big play … (Tate) was delivering.”
In two games, Tate has rushed for 557 yards. That’s 18 yards a carry. Nobody does that. He has completed 21 of 26 passes and hasn’t thrown an interception. Not to get carried away, but he did so against UCLA and Colorado, not NAU and UTEP.
And he did all of that Saturday night against a UCLA defensive staff that had six days to scout and scheme against him. It wasn’t a surprise as it might’ve been in Colorado. It was in-your-face stuff.
Tate ran 45 yards for a touchdown before the game was 90 seconds old. And when the Bruins inched back into contention, he ran 71 yards for a late third-quarter touchdown to put it in the bank.
When the UA staged football revivals under quarterbacks Willie Tuitama and Nick Foles, and a decade earlier under Dan White and Keith Smith, there was no such power of one, no such star-power from one player.
Yes, it’s only two games, but the scope of what Tate has accomplished is unprecedented here.
“He’s 205 pounds,” said RichRod. “Last year he was 225. He’s in the best shape of his life and running as fast as he’s ever run.”
Each time Tate came off the field Saturday, he would walk immediately to a bench near the 50-yard line, taking a seat between quarterback Brandon Dawkins and receiver Shawn Poindexter.
Assistant coach B.J. Denker would hand Tate a set of headphones, connected to Smith in the press box. Those conversations must’ve been short and sweet.
Smith: “Keep it up, son.”
Tate: “Thanks, coach.”
Smith: “You feeling OK?”
Tate: “Never better.”
Smith and RichRod utilized Tate with full effectiveness. They limited his carries to 15 — just one more than a week ago at Colorado — and had tailback Nick Wilson do must of the dirty work inside, carrying 22 times for 135 yards.
What might be most impressive is that none of Tate’s 13 pass attempts were in danger of being intercepted.
It was an exceptional game plan; you can’t have Michael Jordan taking every shot.
If you followed Tate in your binoculars at Arizona Stadium, you noticed he did much more than play quarterback. Leading 17-7 at the end of the first quarter, he finished his chat with Smith and walked onto the field where the defense was waiting for the game to resume.
He tapped knuckles with line coach Vince Amey. He gave defensive end Justin Belknap a bro-hug. He stopped to chat with defensive backs Jace Whittaker and Dane Cruikshank and circulated inside the defensive huddle, encouraging the gang.
Did even Peyton Manning do that?
If that is Tate’s attempt at being a team leader, bring it on. Arizona has needed a leader since the 2014 Territorial Cup.
At noon Saturday on the UA mall, it felt like football in Tucson for the first time in a long time. A pickup pulling a Red Army trailer backed into place and planted an Arizona flag in the turf. Within 10 minutes, more than 20 pickup trucks and RVs followed. They unloaded picnic tables, put up signs for BBQ and Mexican food, and began to behave the way fans of a successful football team behave.
Attendance at Arizona Stadium was 48,380, which is 11,729 more than attended the previous home game, against Utah. It was the second largest gain in attendance, from one conference home game to the next, since the Wildcats were admitted to the league.
Here’s a warning: If the Wildcats win at Cal on Saturday, if Tate continues to deliver, you may have difficulty getting a ticket for the Homecoming game against Washington State on Oct. 28.