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Know Your Enemy: Previewing the Arizona Offense

A dual threat quarterback enters Bear territory this Saturday

Arizona v Colorado Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

How many times have we seen a young quarterback save a head coach’s career in recent years in the Pac-12? It feels like we have a good streak going with the emergence of Sam Darnold last season and now with Khalil Tate storming onto the college football scene. While it might be a stretch saying Darnold saved Clay Helton, by no means is it a reach when talking about the pre-Khalil Tate Wildcats.

The early season proved to be a challenging one this year for Rich Rodriguez. The Wildcats won both of the games they were expected to win against inferior out of conference competition and then lost a defensive battle against a Houston team still recovering from Tom Herman’s departure. The Pac-12 opener would be the last game for previous starter Brandon Dawkins where the Wildcats would lose to Utah at home. Many started to question Rich Rod’s long term security at Arizona and more than a few Cal fans started to view this weekend’s matchup as an easily winnable game.

Enter Khalil Tate, current offensive Pac-12 player of the week and insanely gifted running quarterback. In two games Tate has amassed over 643 yards rushing, averaging an astonishing 16.5 yards per carry including a 75 yard touchdown run. Tate has found the end zone six times in his first two games and that comes against Pac-12 opponents Colorado and UCLA.

The Bears defense has been phenomenal at slowing down high octane passing offenses in past match-ups but this Saturday presents a new, daunting task.

What to Expect Come Saturday

A whole lot of running the ball. Arizona has transformed since last season into a much more run dependent football team. The Wildcats have run the ball 66.2% of their plays this year, setting a new watermark for Rich Rodriguez in his career at Arizona. You don’t have to look much further than the aforementioned Tate’s passing stats to understand Arizona’s reluctance to throw the ball this year. Tate has just 35 attempts in two games which is a number Davis Webb would have doubled in most games last season. Even worse news for Arizona’s passing attack, the Cal secondary is young and lethal. Cam Bynum is a major presence at corner and the Bears have depth that includes Elijah Hicks, Darius Allensworth, Josh Drayden and Marloshawn Franklin. The Wildcats are going to have their hands full passing the ball Saturday.

So if Arizona is so predictable on offense what makes them so intimidating? A lot of that has to do with Tate, who can bounce off defenders and keep them honest enough with his arm. The offensive line is peaking at the right time and giving Tate the ability to get into the more vulnerable secondaries. When that happens, ridiculous numbers like the following take place.

The emergence of Jacob Alsadek at offensive guard has certainly helped spring Tate for many of the big runs he accomplished over the last few weeks. Nick Wilson also plays a critical role at running back, forming a solid two headed attack for opposing defenses.

One of the more important match-ups to watch will be the Wildcat offensive line against the extra defenders Cal sends at the quarterback. The Bears have struggled against the better running teams in the conference and Sam Darnold found a fair amount of running room against the Bears in September. Saturday’s assignment is a tough one, made worse by the absence of Devante Downs. However if we can learn anything from past games, Cal fans know this is a Bears defense you can’t afford to underestimate.