For a meeting between a pair of 3-2 teams, Saturday’s UCLA-Arizona matchup will likely draw an outsized amount of national attention.
That’s what happens when the quarterback for one team – Arizona sophomore Khalil Tate – is coming off a Football Bowl Subdivision-record rushing performance and heading into a matchup with a unit – UCLA’s defense – that has struggled all year with running quarterbacks.
Tate ran for 327 rushing yards in Saturday’s 45-42 win over Colorado – the most ever by an FBS quarterback – on just 14 carries, earning him National Player of the Week honors from CBS Sports. He also got a shoutout from LeBron James, who commented “Sheesh!!!” along with a series of emojis on an Instagram video of Tate’s highlights.
As UCLA, whose defense has allowed the second-most rushing yards per game in the country, prepares to face Arizona, the Wildcats still have Tate listed as a co-starter with redshirt junior Brandon Dawkins. But Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez acknowledged it would be hard to justify not starting Tate. And as Dawkins is a running quarterback as well, the Bruins’ challenge is clear.
“We have to make sure we handle the quarterbacks,” said coach Jim Mora. “Both of them are similar in style – they’re capable passers and they’re excellent runners and they do a good job of staying alive as passers before they run.”
Dual-threat quarterbacks have posed a problem for the Bruins this season. Most recently, Colorado’s Steven Montez picked up 108 yards on 15 carries, including key runs of 25 and 37 yards on quarterback keepers in the second half.
“You always have to be cognizant of the quarterback and the things that he can do, the abilities that he has,” said defensive coordinator Tom Bradley. “The escape lanes that he has and all those things like that, you have to be very careful and very disciplined in your pass rush.”
Mora explained that discipline in more depth, pointing out the importance of the Bruins understanding their roles in each pass-rush call, knowing when they were tasked with containing the pocket and when they were supposed to be aggressive and work for a sack.
“There’s a certain design to each pressure to hope to get a guy free, or get a guy an advantage,” Mora said. “That doesn’t mean everyone can’t be aggressive, but not everybody’s meant to get the sack on every play.”
Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch didn’t blink when asked how different redshirt junior tight end Austin Roberts was from redshirt sophomore Caleb Wilson, who had excelled as the starting tight end before suffering a season-ending foot injury against Colorado.
“Not that different,” Fisch said.
The Bruins will hope Roberts’ production level isn’t much different either, as Wilson was leading all tight ends in the nation in receptions before the injury.
“He’s shown to be a very capable guy, so I’m excited to see him step up,” Mora said of Roberts. “He’s not quite as tall or heavy (as Wilson) … But they’re both really good route runners and they’re matchup problems.”
Blocking out of the backfield
Fisch praised junior running back Soso Jamabo, who seems to have taken over the starting role for the Bruins, for his intelligence and awareness in pass blocking situations, noting it’s a factor that has helped the explosive runner increase his playing time.
“That’s a huge advantage for a running back – it’s going to keep him on the field more because it gives you the ability to run and pass,” Fisch said. “He’s got a really good feel for it, he understands protections really well … He understands not just who to pick up, but how to play with a physicality as well.”