In the middle of the LSU-Ole Miss game on ESPN last night, the broadcast broke away to a highlight of a game that included two unranked teams playing in the first quarter on the West coast.
Imagine an SEC fan watching and saying, “What in tarnation? Arizona?”
If you know SEC football, and how ESPN panders to it, breaking away for something other than a highlight involving top 25 teams must be significant.
Khalil Tate is that significant.
ESPN cut into the LSU-Ole Miss game to show Tate’s 76-yard touchdown run against Cal.
The first highlight of ESPN’s College Football Final show last night? Not a play involving Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan or Notre Dame. It was Tate throwing a touchdown pass to tight end Bryce Wolma in the second overtime of Arizona’s 45-44 win over the Golden Bears.
Never mind that Colin Schooler made the game-saving play batting away Ross Bowers’ pass at the back of the end zone. Somehow, that highlight is secondary.
“You mean Khalil Tate can pass the ball?” ESPN studio analyst Jesse Palmer said in jest.
Tate’s publicity level nationally is of historic proportions with Arizona. The only comparable figures:
— Art Luppino, who made national headlines in the 1950’s by being the first two-time NCAA rushing leader (1,359 rushing yards in 1954 and 1,313 rushing yards in 1955).
— Desert Swarm defense and its magical five-game run in 1992 after Arizona nearly upset No. 1 Miami caught the nation by storm. The Wildcats reached a climax upsetting No. 1 Washington 16-3 in one of the greatest wins in school history.
Chuck Cecil as a hard-hitting safety garnered most of his national attention after his Arizona career, including a Sports Illustrated cover that asked if Cecil was, “Too vicious for the NFL?”
Tedy Bruschi’s national fame came mostly as a three-time Super Bowl winner with the New England Patriots. He was one of the unknown “guys named Joe” who Dick Tomey attracted that comprised the Desert Swarm.
Arizona's Khalil Tate has 668 rushing yards and 7 TD on 35 carries in the last 9 quarters.
He's a quarterback. pic.twitter.com/rrrdGlznQg
Rob Gronkowski’s popularity transcends football with the successful Patriots, but most of that national attention came after his brief Arizona career.
Ricky Hunley is the best player to put on the helmet and pads at Arizona. His acclaim is mostly as an All-American at Arizona and later an NFL player representative during his days with the Denver Broncos.
Scooby Wright seemed to win every national award for a defensive player in 2014. That drew him fame but not on the scale of what Arizona is experiencing with Tate. The proof is in ESPN breaking away from normal programming to show one of Tate’s electrifying runs.
In terms of grabbing national headlines, and being what we now classify as a hot Twitter trend, Tate is at a place where perhaps no other Wildcat has ascended. They did not have Twitter or ESPN when Luppino played. Social media was not around during the Desert Swarm era 25 years ago.
Tate’s ability to find holes and make tacklers miss because of his size (6’2″ and 220) and his speed that allows him to break away from safeties has put him in this position.
Khalil Tate is still running all over 👀 pic.twitter.com/RszllyvxOg
He is the No. 22 rusher in the nation with 718 yards despite carrying the ball only 50 times. The next player with least amount of rushes ahead of him is Ohio State all-purpose back J.K. Dobbins, ranked No. 16, carrying the ball 100 times for 775 yards.
Tate has also completed 72 percent of his passes (36 of 50) for 506 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Only a sophomore, Tate has also eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards in his career. He is at 1,017 yards on 105 carries, an average of 9.7 yards a carry.
Brandon Dawkins earlier this season broke Ronald Veal’s school career rushing record for a quarterback. Veal had 1,419 yards and Dawkins is at 1,481.
Tate is only 464 yards from Dawkins’ record.
How often does a school’s career rushing record for a quarterback get broken twice in one season? Not often, if at all.
One more example of Tate’s extraordinary and unique production that has made him a national phenom.
ARIZONA QB CAREER RUSHING LEADERS
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.