True dual threat quarterbacks are a defensive coordinator’s nightmare. If you drop into coverage, he beats you with his feet. If you sell out to stop the run, he beats you over the top with his arm. Sometimes you have to dedicate one of your defenders as a spy. You have to pick and choose your blitzes with a little more care, and ensure that your rushers are maintaining lane integrity. Most defenses are good at one or two things; very few defenses can be all things to all offenses. Dual threat QBs put those defenses to the test. Khalil Tate put the Cougar defense through the ringer last year, to the tune of 275 yards through the air (on only 17 attempts!) and another 146 on the ground. It was chunk play after chunk play after chunk play. And Wazzu wasn’t the only defense to feel the wrath of Khalil. Our new quarterback overlord racked up 1400 yards on the ground. And he didn’t even play in the first few games.
So obviously, when Kevin Sumlin takes over this year, the one thing he wants to do is keep Khalil Tate in the pocket and have him run the ball a lot less often.
Tate has 233 yards rushing. On the season. That’s about 26 yards per game. To put that in perspective, he rushed for more than 26 yards in every game last year except one (24 against Houston), even if he was only in for mop-up duty or injury replacement. Tate himself was dealing with an ankle injury for a lot of the year, but even in week one against BYU, Arizona was not running Tate nearly as much as they had in the past. So let’s look at Khalil Tate 2.0 and how his game has changed since last year.
First, if you need a refresher on just how good Khalil Tate was last year with the ball in his hands, I will just leave this here. (Also, this is my all-time favorite image/gif thus far in my tenure on staff here, so I will use any justification to post it again don’t judge me.)
It is ridiculous in so many ways. Also, you can check out last year’s look at Khalil Tate (praise be unto him) and Arizona’s offense under Rich Rodriguez. Of course, the sub-heading of that article was “Here’s how #SpeedD will stop him” so..... I mean.... whoops.
Back to the more recent past. This first play doesn’t look like much, but it’s representative of the changes to the Arizona offense. The formation is pretty similar to what we saw a lot of from RichRod and the ‘Cats last year; it’s almost a flexbone look with two tight ends as wings. Last year, JJ Taylor would have been next to Tate in a more traditional shotgun look. This year, Arizona has shown a bit more Pistol.
Last year, this absolutely 100% would have been a zone read where Tate kept the ball. BYU is showing seven in the box and a two-deep safety look. The end at the bottom of the screen slow plays the zone read look, which allows the backside tight end to pull around and, had the play been a keep by Tate, seal him. The playside tight end takes the outside linebacker/nickel defender out wide, and the right tackle hopefully doesn’t whiff on the middle linebacker like he does here, and Tate’s probably off to the races. BYU rolls its coverage here, and I believe the safety that drops into frame at the snap (#11) is spying Tate. But I would like my chances with Tate in a foot race against just about anyone on BYU’s defense. Or anyone’s defense.
This year? It’s just a simple zone left that gets dropped for a minimal gain. BYU runs a nose/tackle loop that beats the zone block of the left guard. The tackle basically runs free into the gap and meets Taylor in the hole. The left guard whiffs on the outside linebacker on that side as well. This is where having a dynamic athlete at quarterback can make you look like an offensive genius. If Tate pulls the ball and runs, I don’t know that BYU can stop it. The offensive line doesn’t block particularly well, but it still may go for six just because Khalil Tate is so good.
Next up is a version of one of the plays that scorched the Cougar defense last year, and it may show us why Sumlin is banking on Khalil Tate the passer instead of Khalil Tate the option threat.
The wing tight ends running down the field should give Cougar fans a little bit of PTSD. Arizona killed #SpeedD by exploiting the aggressiveness of its safeties flying down to support the run. The safeties would be out of position to stop the tight ends from streaking down the seam. This play isn’t exactly the same, as it’s the tight end running a wheel route down the sideline, but the concept is similar. In this case, the tight end gets a rub from the outside receiver, who also streaks vertical. It’s basically Four Verts, just with the two receivers on each side switching their paths.
Tate throws a gorgeous ball here. The linebacker has no chance at this one while the ball is in the air. It’s perfectly placed right over the defender’s shoulder, and right on the hands of the receiver. The linebacker ends up sticking his hand in there and dislodging the ball for an incompletion, but this pass is just pretty. So Tate can definitely hurt a defense in the passing game. His strength is in the deep ball; he throws an extremely catchable ball and can drop it in the bucket as well as any quarterback in the Pac-12.
All that being said, the Cougar defense can’t assume Tate won’t beat them with his feet. He can, and will, and has over the course of the season. It doesn’t necessarily have to be by rushing for 300 yards. He has gotten pretty good at manipulating the pocket and/or outmaneuvering the pass rush. (Also this is Mesh because Everybody Air Raids™.)
Tate had five touchdown passes in their last game against Colorado. On all but one of them, he was outside the pocket.
A lot of people have been pointing to this game as the toughest test for the Cougs in this last stretch of games, and with good reason. Khalil Tate is good enough to test anybody, and now that Arizona has had a bye week to rest and recuperate, he might be back to 100% health, which is a terrifying prospect. Whether the new and improved passing model of Khalil Tate will be as effective as last year’s version will remain to be seen. Either way, it will be incumbent upon Tracy Claeys and the defense to bottle up Tate and not allow the same types of chunk plays that hurt the Cougs last year.