Arizona may have found a new starting quarterback who resembles a more prolific version of the old one.
Replacing an injured Brandon Dawkins in the first quarter, Tate set a Football Bowl Subdivision record for a quarterback with 327 yards rushing during the Wildcats’ 45-42 victory over the Buffaloes. He piled up that total in 14 carries and had touchdown runs of 58, 28, 47 and 75 yards, earning a “sheesh” shout-out from Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James on Instagram along with emojis of wide eyes, a man running and dust.
“It’s hard to justify not starting him after this, right?” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said of Tate, a former Gardena Serra High standout who made his college debut last season in the third quarter against UCLA at the Rose Bowl.
Tate was unsuccessful in trying to rally the Wildcats during that 45-24 loss to the Bruins, and appeared overmatched later in the season when he was forced into a start against USC.
It looked Saturday as if he might have belonged in the NFL, averaging 23.4 yards per carry and completing 11 of 12 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown. The one pass that wasn’t complete was dropped.
UCLA coach Jim Mora said Monday that Tate’s breakthrough wouldn’t change the Bruins’ defensive approach because he’s similar in style to Dawkins, another dual threat. Tate leads Arizona with 413 yards rushing and Dawkins is second with 358.
Arizona (3-2, 1-1 in Pac-12 Conference) has rushed for at least 400 yards four times in the last seven games, making it a tough matchup for the Bruins (3-2, 1-1) considering their struggles against the run. UCLA’s rushing defense ranks second to last among major college teams, giving up 284.2 yards per game, and the Bruins have recorded only nine sacks in five games.
UCLA is coming off a bye week that followed a 27-23 victory over Colorado in which it had difficulty stopping quarterback Steven Montez, another shifty runner.
“It’s hard to play these running quarterbacks because it tempers your ability to just turn it loose and go because if you create escape lanes, you’re really going to pay for it,” Mora said. “We’ve just got to make sure we’re very disciplined in the way we rush [the quarterback] and that we keep our eyes on him and that we’re able to get off blocks.”
Guard Najee Toran practiced and is expected to play against the Wildcats after suffering a leg injury against Colorado, Mora said. The availability of several other players remained less clear.
The Bruins are hopeful that defensive end Jaelan Phillips, tackle Sunny Odogwu, and linebackers Lokeni Toailoa and DeChaun Holiday can return from injuries. Phllips’ return could be particularly meaningful considering he has made a team-leading 4 1/2 tackles for loss in slightly more than 2 1/2 games.
Mora said tight end Caleb Wilson (foot) and tailback Nate Starks (knee) had undergone surgeries that would end their season. Wilson’s procedure required the insertion of screws to help stabilize bones in his forefoot, Mora said.
“Even though he’s not going to be on the field, his role as a leader of this team does not diminish at all,” Mora said of Wilson. “It’s important for him to be in the locker room and be in the meeting rooms and be around these guys because he does have some real positive influence.”
Kickoff time set
UCLA’s game against Oregon on Oct. 21 at the Rose Bowl will start at 1 p.m. and will be televised by the Pac-12 Networks.