Khalil Tate’s record-setting day is new reason to tune into Arizona football

Khalil Tate (Pac-12 Network screenshot)

Sometimes, the most popular player on campus is the backup quarterback, just because he’s the unknown, the guy who might be great.

And, sometimes, the backup is Khalil Tate.

Whether it was one-game lightning or the start of something huge, Tate unleashed one of the greatest performances in Arizona Wildcats history Saturday night at Colorado, running for 327 yards and accounting for five touchdowns in a 45-42 victory that suddenly makes you want to watch the rest of UA’s season.

This is what the true sophomore did after entering the game in the first quarter after starter Brandon Dawkins was banged up after absorbing a late hit out of bounds:

He scored on runs of 75, 58, 47 and 28 yards.

He completed 11 of 12 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown.

He posted the fifth-most rushing yards in a game in Pac-12 history.

He set the FBS single-game rushing record for a quarterback, eclipsing the 322 yards posted by Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch against Central Michigan in 2013.

Oh … and he did this all on just 14 carries.

“He was phenomenal,” coach Rich Rodriguez said on the Pac-12 Network. “Honestly. I could tell during the week he was hungry to get a chance, and he got a chance early and made the most of it.

“The way he played today was remarkable. He was poised. The guys blocked well up front, and we also blocked great on the perimeter.”

Tate set the FBS record on his final carry. Facing third-and-7 at the Colorado 48 with less than two minutes left, was there any doubt Tate would keep? He took the shotgun snap, sprinted to his right, ran into a defender a couple yards short of the first down, spun for the needed yardage, broke more tackles and kept going for a 31-yard gain.

It was like that all game.

Colorado could not wrap him up, could not tackle him in space, could not catch him.

“Could someone please tackle No. 14 for Arizona?” Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said at the opening of his postgame press conference. “That was the difference in the football game. He was amazing. He should be National Player of the Week. He’s a phenomenal player. I think they’ve found their quarterback now.”

Tate suffered a shoulder injury in the season-opener and had been slowed in practice while Dawkins had uneven performances in the team’s 2-2 start. But Rodriguez said Tate has been healthy the past two weeks, including the bye after the home loss to Utah.

“I think it’s the first week I have been 100 percent, other than Week 1,” Tate told the Pac-12 Network. “It was good to just come out here and get a good quality win with my team.”

Arizona (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) plays UCLA next Saturday in Tucson, and there really shouldn’t be any debate about who starts at quarterback. Rodriguez, who said Dawkins could have come back into the game against Colorado, was actually non-committal when asked on the Pac-12 Network if he had “found his quarterback.”

But, come on.

Tate just ran for 327 yards and gave Arizona fans reasons to tune in (and maybe even buy tickets!).

The question isn’t who should start at quarterback. It’s more like this: Now what can Tate do for an encore?

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