Big key for BYU football at Arizona is limiting QB Khalil Tate
The big expectations of the Arizona football team in 2018 rely heavily on the remarkable abilities of junior quarterback Khalil Tate.
His performance in nine games for the Wildcats last season has him being touted as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate as he racked up 1,411 yards and 12 touchdowns on 153 carries while also tacking on 1,591 passing yards on 111-of-179 passing with 14 TDs and nine interceptions.
The downside to all those sterling numbers, however, is the fact that Arizona was only 5-4 during that stretch, including losing four of its final five games.
One of the glaring statistical differences for the Wildcats in the wins vs. the losses was rushing yards.
In the five victories, Arizona gained an average of 411.8 yards on the ground. In the four losses, the Wildcats only managed to average 194.5 rushing yards.
If that trend continues into 2018, it’s pretty clear that for BYU to have a chance to go on the road and defeat Arizona in Tucson on Saturday night (8:45 p.m. MDT, ESPN), then the Cougars have to slow Tate and the Wildcat rushing attack.
“He’s a dynamic player,” BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said earlier this week. “There are a lot of good defenses that he has played against and he’s shredded them. It’s trying to keep contain. I think he’s going to get his so it’s a matter of trying to not let him out for 300 yards.”
Tuiaki said he knows Tate has the ability to pass effectively as well as churn out the yards on the ground.
“He’s got an arm,” Tuiaki said. “It looks like he throws with ease. We want to force him to beat us with his arm. I think he is capable of doing both.”
The BYU defensive players say they are well aware of the challenge that Tate presents.
“He’s a phenomenal athlete but we haven’t focused on him too much,” Cougar senior linebacker Sione Takitaki said. “We have emphasized everyone doing their jobs. If all 11 guys on the field do their job, we will be just fine.”
Takitaki explained that having speed at linebacker makes a difference when facing a mobile quarterback.
“It’s an advantage knowing you can cover some ground,” he said. “You can cover the space but then try to get to him as soon as possible if he runs.”
Arizona had to replace a number of starters on its offensive line, meaning there might be opportunities for the Cougar defensive front to take advantage of mistakes.
“I think fans should expect to see a lot of disruption,” BYU sophomore defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga said. “Arizona is quick and they move a lot on the front side, so we are expecting to stay big. If we do our jobs, the linebackers should have a heyday coming in and making plays.”
There certainly is no sense of concern on the BYU defense. The guys appear to be embracing the opportunity.
“We always like facing big-time opponents,” Takitaki said. “It’s good for us who are good players to go against guys like Tate who are put on that pedestal. We’re excited to show everyone what we can do.”
Just like for everyone else in college football, the season-opener is filled with unknowns. The preparation is complete and it will finally be time to step on the field and show where the team is at now.
“We’re ready to go,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said. “These guys are ready to compete and they’ve worked hard in the off-season and made a statement. I think these guys have worked harder than anybody else and so we’ll find out on game day. I’m ready to see our guys go.”