PULLMAN – Washington State’s defensive backs may still be inhaling the dust Khalil Tate left behind in a football game-turned-track meet between the Cougars and Arizona Wildcats last October in the Tucson desert.
Tate arrived onto the college football scene last season without much notice and tortured a slew of unsuspecting Pac-12 teams with his rip-roaring speed and dual threat playmaking ability.
The Cougars saw it first-hand on Oct. 28, 2017, in Arizona Stadium. Early in the fourth quarter, the sophomore quarterback faked a handoff to running back J.J. Taylor and tucked the ball into the arms before curling around the offensive line and stampeding 49 yards to the end zone.
Tate stumped WSU nearly every time Arizona’s offense came onto the field and accounted for 421 yards offense and three touchdowns as the Wildcats cruised past the Cougars 58-37 in Tucson.
Looking back, WSU didn’t help itself out much either, coach Mike Leach insists.
“First of all, our defensive plan was part of what made him dangerous,” Leach said Monday during a news conference. “I think we had some self-inflicted wounds. The other thing is, I think he’s good with his feet – he can throw and he can run both. Then what they were doing offensively kind of set that up and complimented it, so now it’s kind of a combination with both.”
Tate and Wildcats (5-5, 4-3) make a visit to Pullman this Saturday to face the No. 8 Cougars (9-1, 6-1) at 7:30 p.m. (ESPN) at Martin Stadium.
WSU is under the direction of a new defensive coordinator this season, Tracy Claeys, and the Cougars will probably make a few edits to the game plan – if not scrap last year’s blueprint completely – with last year’s disaster still in the back of their mind.
Tate was only part of the conundrum. The Wildcats had eight offensive plays of 40 yards or longer, four of 60 yards or longer and two more that were 70 or longer. They finished with 585 total yards of offense, averaging a whopping 11.5 yards per play.
“I didn’t think we adjusted very good and I also think we were pretty much in a situation where if one guy screwed up they were going to get a lot of yards and I think that puts too much stress in order to successfully defend them,” Leach said. “Because you’re talking about any given play there would be three guys staying at the point of attack and for all of three of them to play perfectly every time is pretty challenging.”
“So I think we approached it aggressively, which I liked at the time, but I didn’t think it was the best approach in hindsight.”
Leach is WSU’s offensive coordinator and gives his defensive coordinator a fair amount of autonomy, but don’t be surprised if this week the head coach offers a little more defensive input than usual.
He’d hate for lightning – or Khalil Tate – to strike twice.