Arizona’s Khalil Tate took the college football world by storm last year, rushing for 1,411 yards and 9.2 yards per attempt.
He had games of 327, 230 and 206, the last coming against Oregon State.
And he was playing quarterback.
The Beavers will get another crack at Tate and the Wildcats when they visit Reser Stadium for Saturday’s 1 p.m. kickoff in the Pac-12 opener for both teams.
“We got to be disciplined, be on top of our game this week,” OSU linebacker Andrzej Hughes-Murray said.
Added linebacker Kee Whetzel: “He’s just a good athlete, can run the ball, throw the ball, he’s elusive and real fast.”
Tate has not been as dynamic this season under first-year coach Kevin Sumlin, at least not on the ground.
The junior, who has been hampered by a sore ankle, has rushed for 40 yards on 19 attempts. However, he has passed for 887, and average of 295.7 per game, completing 54 of 99 passes with six touchdowns and two interceptions.
“He’s got a strong arm and can really zip the ball,” Oregon State offensive line coach and run game coordinator Jim Michalczik said. “Our best deal we can do is move the ball on offense and kind of keep our defense off the field.”
Michalczik witnessed Tate’s rise to fame as the Wildcats’ offensive line coach last season.
“Khalil is a dynamic guy, he can really make something happen,” Michalczik said. “I was fortunate to kind of witness it the other way. Sometimes something would break down and he would take off and make something out of nothing. He’s dangerous and that’s probably the best way to explain him.”
The Beavers will need to make sure they have an eye on Tate at all times. That’s the plan.
“He’s extremely explosive and he’s a guy you have to account for every snap,” defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar said. “You can’t play 11 vs. 10, you have to account for him every time.
“So that presents some unique challenges in how you handle the run and how you handle the pass and how aggressive you can get going after their quarterback when it is a passing situation.”
As dangerous as Tate is, he has weapons around him, including running back J.J. Taylor (44 carries, 193 yards).
“We just have to be sound and play with good leverage and play to our help,” linebackers coach Trent Bray said. “That’s the biggest things is there’s going to be tackles in space, we’ve got to understand what our leverage is, where our help is and we’ve got to make sure we make two-on-one tackles rather than try to make one-on-one tackles.”
Offensively, the Beavers are most likely going to call on Conor Blount to start at quarterback. Head coach Jonathan Smith would not rule out Jake Luton completely, but he hasn’t practiced all week with an ankle injury.
Blount has completed 39 of 61 passes for 570 yards and four touchdowns. He has started the last two games.
Michalczik also knows the Arizona defense well.
“They’re a multiple front, multiple pressure team,” he said. “They show you a lot of different things, bring pressure a lot of different ways and do a good job of disguising it.
“Those inside linebackers are tremendous. They were young kids last year and they’re tremendous players. It’s going to be a good game. We’re going to have to play our best to compete.”
Blount said the Beavers won’t change up too much from their normal package.
“Just do what we do,” he said. “I don’t think we need to change much, just go out there and execute what we do because we’ve got talent. Just use that talent and go out there and put up some points.”
Both teams enter 1-2 and have let a game slip away. The Beavers are coming off a tough 37-35 loss at Nevada but say they have put that loss behind them and are focused on opening Pac-12 play.
“We’re looking at it like we’re 0-0 again, new season basically,” Whetzel said. “Excited to be back out here at Reser. Reser is a good atmosphere for us. We love it here. All the students are coming back for school so we’re expecting it to be super packed and loud. It’s going to be a fun time.”