It would be difficult for Khalil Tate to play better than he did. Not only did he set the FBS rushing record for quarterbacks with 327 yards – while averaging an absurd 23.4 yards per carry – but Tate completed 11 of his 12 pass attempts (with the lone miss being a drop). He accounted for five touchdowns. He made big plays and clutch plays. He never seemed overwhelmed by the situation. It was as close to a flawless performance as you’ll ever see.
The backs took a backseat to Tate, gaining only 69 yards on 21 carries. But those zone-read plays don’t work if the backs aren’t a threat, and Colorado had to honor them. Nick Wilson’s two best runs in the first half netted first downs. J.J. Taylor served as the lead blocker on Tate’s 75-yard TD run in the fourth quarter. Zach Green got one carry at the goal line and converted it into the only non-Tate touchdown.
Kind of a mixed bag for this group. Shun Brown had a team-high six catches, snared a TD pass but lost a fumble. Tyrell Johnson had a 28-yard reception but also dropped a pass. Trevor Wood dropped his lone target. Tony Ellison’s only catch went for 60 yards and set up a critical field goal. All the receivers played an integral role in Tate’s record-setting performance with their downfield blocking.
It’s hard to find fault when a team rushes for 425 yards and doesn’t surrender a sack. Tate credited the line for opening holes for him, although he did a lot of it on his own, making defenders miss near the line of scrimmage before dashing into the secondary. The running backs didn’t have a lot of openings on inside runs, although the blocking on Green’s 1-yard TD run was excellent.
This might seem like a harsh grade for a group that produced a season-high four sacks. But as UA coach Rich Rodriguez noted, once the Buffaloes realized they didn’t need to pass, the pass rush wasn’t much of a factor. Arizona couldn’t stop Colorado’s run game, yielding 281 yards to Phillip Lindsay and a season-high 300 in all. The Buffs mounted one long drive after another, pounding the Arizona front to the point of exhaustion.
The secondary at least made Colorado work for what it got. Cornerback Jace Whittaker led the way with three pass breakups. CB Lorenzo Burns had one, plus a personal-best 10 tackles. The fact that defensive backs represented three of Arizona’s four leading tacklers (Scottie Young Jr., Burns, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles) shows that too many runs were reaching the back end of the defense. The secondary also benefited from Steven Montez’s inaccuracy on deep balls.
Special teams didn’t play a huge role in this game; Arizona’s unit generally handled its business. Lucas Havrisik booted seven of his eight kickoff for touchbacks, helping the Wildcats to a 6-yard advantage in average starting field position. Anthony Pandy leveled K.D. Nixon at the 17-yard line on the one kickoff that didn’t go for a touchback. Johnson had a 32-yard return on Colorado’s lone non-touchback. Josh Pollack made his only field-goal attempt, from 24 yards out in the fourth quarter, and Arizona ended up needing it.
The Wildcats pulled out a win despite a lot of things working against them, including the Buffs’ sense of desperation and their loud home crowd. Rodriguez deserves credit for sticking with Tate early; the coach indicated that Brandon Dawkins could have come back into the game. Rodriguez also managed the clock well in the fourth quarter. This was the first time all season that Marcel Yates’ defense couldn’t find the right in-game adjustment to slow the other team down.