Arizona Football

Arizona football notes: QB mystery lingers

Khalil Tate (ESPN screenshot)

Khalil Tate (ESPN screenshot)

Perhaps the most popular question in Tucson this week: Who starts at quarterback on Saturday?

My answer: Heck if I know.

As thoroughly expected, coach Rich Rodriguez on Monday did not divulge the ongoing injury status of Anu Solomon (knee), or if Brandon Dawkins‘ rib injury would be healed in time for him to be available for Saturday night’s game at Utah. When Dawkins tried to play through the injury Saturday night, he was having trouble taking deep enough breaths.

Each could be out for a while … as far as we know.

If so — and perhaps even not so — Wildcat Nation turns its eyes to true freshman Khalil Tate.

If you were surprised by how well he played in a second-half relief effort Saturday night at UCLA … well, uh, so was Rodriguez, to a point. I asked the coach if the Tate that we all saw against the Bruins was the same guy he sees every day in practice.

“He was better,” Rodriguez said.

“He was more composed in the game than he was in practice, so that was really pleasant. Sometimes, guys get in their first action and the lights are too bright, but he was spot on. Even when he made a wrong read or something, he knew right away. That part of it was very encouraging.”

Rodriguez emphasized that the coaches didn’t want to bring Tate out of his redshirt season, but they knew it was a possibility when Solomon went down in practice after the first game. And it really wasn’t a complicated decision.

“I didn’t have any discussion with him. I tell all our freshmen: I’m not going to talk to you about being redshirted. Just be ready to play. If you’re ready to play and we gotta use you to win with, we’re going to use you to win with.”

RichRod, like all coaches, is playing for right now, not for some theoretical future in 2020. Who knows how it all plays out?

Given that Tate has been splitting second-team reps for the past few weeks, he knew that playing this season was a possibility. Having enrolled early and going through spring ball certainly helped him when his number was called.

But does he know as much of the offense as Solomon and Dawkins? No.

Is his conditioning as good as it needs to be? Well, let Rodriguez tell it, based on what he saw when Tate stayed down on the field after taking a hit along the sideline in the third quarter after a 15-play, 87-yard drive.

“I was like, ‘You gotta be kidding me,'” Rodriguez said.

“But when I went over and I saw a little smile on his face and I was like, ‘His big butt is just tired.’ He’s not used to running that fast, that hard, for that much. I went over there and kind of giggled a little bit. He used that opportunity to kind of catch his breath.”

Tate ran for a team-high 79 yards on 15 carries, and he completed 5 of 9 passes for 72 yards and two touchdowns.

Will he start Saturday? Will he play at all? Will he be “The Man” the rest of the season?

Heck if I know.

“It’s a long season,” Rodriguez said. “There are a lot of games left. And he’s certainly going to play a big role for us.”

* * *

Arizona is, for the second consecutive season, being undone by injuries, and not only at quarterback and running back this season.

Sometimes, the injuries are just freak things. A player rolls up on Anu Solomon’s leg in practice. J.J. Taylor’s foot gets caught underneath him as he is being gang-tackled by Washington.

But Rodriguez conceded it was fair to ask about Arizona’s training methods, given the two-year wave of injuries.

“We looked at our training, and I am really pleased with our training,” he said. “It’s the same training we did two years ago when we had no injuries.”

* * *

Utah also has injury concerns, including losing its starting center. Javier Morales has a breakdown of the Utes’ injury situation.

* * *

Arizona’s Oct. 15 home game against USC will start at 12:30 p.m., marking the first day game of the season after six night kickoffs.

“Best news I heard all day,” Rodriguez said.

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