Arizona (5-2, 3-1) has won three straight games since freshmen quarterback Khalil Tate was named as the starter by Rich Rodriguez; but the sophomore will be going up against the best defense he’s faced yet when No. 15 Washington State (7-1, 4-1) comes to town on Saturday at 6:30 PM (PT) on Pac-12 Network.
Tate has been a revelation since he took over the starting role as he’s averaging 13.9 yards per carry with 10.2 yards per passing attempt. The sophomore quarterback has been so dangerous because he’s so damn fast, once Tate gets into the second level there are few defensive backs in the country that are going to be able to keep up with the quarterback; watch in the highlights below how Tate just burns every Colorado defender that gets near him.
Arizona has broken Tate free by effectively, and repeatedly, using the read-option to keep defenses honest about who’s going to get the ball. The read option has been so effective for the Wildcats because of the talented running backs that line up in the backfield alongside Tate; JJ Taylor, Nick Wilson, Brandon Dawkins, and Zach Green.
Those four tailbacks are averaging 5.4 yards per carry which will test the Cougar’s Speed D. This is the most talented backfield that Washington State will face all season. It’s going to be crucial for the front seven to stay in its gaps and not over pursue because the Wildcats are really good at taking advantage of defenses that don’t stay within their assignments.
As for Arizona’s defense, it hasn’t been truly tested by an aggressive passing offense — its opponents have only averaged 37.7 passing attempts per game — like No. 15 WSU…which is averaging 50.9 passing attempts per game. Just like Cal, the Wildcats have been excellent at taking the big plays through the air this season; which is a concern because the Air Raid suffocates if it can’t stretch the field horizontally. It’s going to be crucial for Luke Falk to challenge the Wildcats with his outside receivers and to get rid of the ball quickly. Otherwise the offense will sputter again, which is a recipe for disaster against Tate and the talented backfield for Arizona’s offense.
The good news for Washington State’s offense is that Rich Rodriguez’s squad is susceptible to being ground into dust. Arizona has been given up a respectable 4.3 yards per carry, but they’ve struggled at times with containing running backs that get outside of the box and can separate from the front seven with speed. This is where Jamal Morrow and James Williams are going to have to have huge games to open up the offense; when Falk hands the ball off,they’re going to need to get outside of the tackles and turn down field.
Tate rips off a couple of big runs that stretch the defense and opens up space in the middle of the field for the Wildcats tailbacks. Because of the Wildcats early success on the ground the Cougs sell out to stop the running game, constantly bringing extra men into the box to take Arizona out of its comfort zone. It works for a quarter or so, but the sophomore quarterback is able to take advantage of some one-on-one match-ups on the outside to stretch the field vertically.
As for the Cougars’ offense, they are able to pick up some large chunks on the ground early on which causes UA to get more aggressive with its blitz packages to try to shut down Boobie and Morrow. This has the unintended consequences of getting to Falk more often, which causes the offense to sputter on its first couple of drives. But a couple of deep passes to Tavares Martin Jr. help the offense settle in.
This game is going to come down to who has the ball last.
No. 15 Washington State 65
Arizona Wildcats 58
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Proud alum of Washington State University, crazy sports nut, and drinker of beer.