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Q&A with AZ Desert Swarm: It’s the Khalil Tate show

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We chat with Arizona fans about how dangerous their team—well, Khalil Tate—is.

Utah v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It’s homecoming! The California Golden Bears are coming home by playing the Arizona Wildcats, which means CGB is coming home by chatting with our SBN brethren at AZ Desert Swarm.

1. Which player on offense should Cal fans know about?

Ryan Kelapire (RK): Definitely Khalil Tate. Since taking over as Arizona's primary quarterback two games ago, Tate has been flat-out ridiculous. Against Colorado, he rushed for an FBS record 327 yards, then ran for 230 yards against UCLA. Plus, he's completed over 80 percent of his passes, including some impressive deep balls.

He's a true dual-threat quarterback and has been excellent in both facets of the game since taking the reins of Arizona's offense.

2. Which player on defense should Cal fans know about?

RK: Arizona doesn't really have a "star" player, so to speak, but Jace Whittaker is coming off a terrific game against UCLA. The junior cornerback picked off Josh Rosen twice—one of which was a pick-six. And the other interception was in the end zone to prevent six.

Whittaker is Arizona's best cornerback—sometimes he's what you would call a "shutdown corner"—and he's been making big plays week in and week out.

3. Who's one under-the-radar or X-factor player who could swing this game for Arizona?

RK: Shun Brown. The 5-foot-9 junior is Arizona's best wide receiver and also is a factor in the return game, returning two punts for touchdowns this year. Brown's receiving numbers have improved since Tate took over at quarterback and although Brown is small, he's capable of making big plays deep down the field and in open space.

Basically, if Arizona is running the ball well and Brown can make a big play or two, Arizona's offense will be difficult to stop.

4. What does Arizona need to do to win the game?

RK: While it's unrealistic to expect Tate to continue the things he's doing, they need him to provide a nice balance of running and passing—and for him to take care of the football and not get injured.

Offense hasn't really been an issue for the Wildcats the last few weeks, but defense has. What's sorta been overshadowed by Tate's excellence is the fact Arizona has been giving up a ton of yardage the last two weeks.

They haven't been able to stop the run consistently (Colorado's Phillip Lindsay rushed for 281 yards vs. Arizona) and their pass rush is inconsistent, often times giving opposing QBs enough time to pick apart the secondary. Arizona has given up 77 points in the past two weeks and at some point Tate is going to regress, so the defense will need to step it up.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Arizona
Beware of Arizona QB Khalil Tate
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

5. What does Cal need to do to win the game?

RK: Make Tate uncomfortable, for one. Arizona's offensive line has done a tremendous job of keeping Tate pressure-free on his dropbacks. While Tate has shown pretty good pocket presence, there haven't been many instances where he's had to escape the pocket to make a throw or even make a throw under pressure.

Of course, not letting Tate run wildly like he has the last two weeks would help, too.

If Cal can slow down Arizona's offense even just a little bit, not turn the ball over, and move the ball like opposing teams have against Arizona the last two weeks, they'll have a great shot of winning.

6. How do you see the game going?

RK: I really don't have a good feel for this one. If Tate continues playing the way he has, it's hard to see Cal beating Arizona. But if he regresses—even just a little bit—Arizona's defense might not have what it takes to hold the Bears off the scoreboard enough to win.

But Arizona's defense was actually pretty good in the first four games and I think they're due for a bounce back game—and I think that could happen Saturday.

So I'll say Arizona wins 38–31.

7. Let's talk about Khalil Tate's passing. He has over 11 yards per attempt (which is astounding) on only 26 passes over the last two games. Is this like a typical Georgia Tech or Navy QB, where the defense is so focused on stopping the run that the QB can occasionally burn them for a big play? Or is he a good enough passer that you trust him to lead the offense consistently through the air?

RK: It's a little bit of both. There's no doubt teams have been stacking the box to try to stop the run, but Tate has made some unbelievable throws the last two weeks.

Here are two examples from the game vs. UCLA.

Tate has a strong arm and can clearly make all the throws at this level. Again, though, neither Colorado nor UCLA were able to put much pressure on him, so it remains to be seen how accurate his throws are or how sound his decision-making is when he's under pressure.

8. How is it possible that Khalil Tate was not named the starter coming out of Spring or Fall camp?

RK: We're trying to figure that out, too. Rich Rodriguez said Monday that Brandon Dawkins was simply the better player in camp—and that this is the best he's ever seen Tate play.

Tate did play a little bit last season as a 17-year-old true freshman and predictably struggled, so perhaps that was clouding Rodriguez's judgment a little bit. Tate also had well-known issues learning the playbook, but Rodriguez said that's less of an issue now.

Tate also had a shoulder injury early in the season, so that didn't help. But either way, it's sorta ridiculous that Tate wasn't starting over Dawkins, who clearly wasn't a good quarterback.

NCAA Football: Arizona at Colorado
A face more punchable than Twist’s, apparently.
Russell Lansford-USA TODAY Sports

9. RichRod was on the hot seat heading into this season. Has his seat cooled at all? What does he have to accomplish this season to keep his job?

RK: I think the general consensus is that Arizona has to reach a bowl game for Rodriguez to keep his job. Many thought this would be a six-win team at best, meaning Rodriguez was definitely on the hot seat.

However, now seven or even eight wins is not of the picture, so, yes, his hot seat has definitely cooled.

10. Whom do you most want to punch in the face?

RK: I know Arizona fans want to punch RichRod for not starting Tate from the get-go. The Wildcats are basically two plays away from being 6–0 and both of UA's losses came with Dawkins at the helm.


Big thanks to AZ Desert Swarm and Ryan for getting us all educated on the Wildcats; you can check out the As we gave their Qs right here. But let’s not wish them the best on Saturday.

Poll

How do you see the game going?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Big Cal win
    (39 votes)
  • 58%
    Close Cal win
    (177 votes)
  • 17%
    Close Arizona win
    (53 votes)
  • 10%
    Big Arizona win
    (32 votes)
301 votes total Vote Now