Provo • From 2012 to 2016, BYU’s defensive players often said they were thankful that they only had to try to stop dual-threat quarterback Taysom Hill in practices, and not in games.
The current Cougar defenders will get that challenge Saturday when they face a quarterback that might be even better than Hill was at running the football, Heisman Trophy candidate Khalil Tate of Arizona
“Dynamic player, man,” said BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki. “There are a lot of good defenses that he’s played, and he has shredded them all. It is [about] trying to keep him contained. He’s going to get his [yards]. It is just a matter of trying to not let him out for 300 yards.”
Don’t laugh. Tate did that to Colorado last year, running for an FBS-record (for a quarterback) 327 yards against the Buffs.
While the focus in Provo the last month has been on which quarterback BYU will roll out for the 8:45 p.m. MDT kickoff — senior Tanner Mangum got the nod over freshman Zach Wilson — Arizona has known all along its offense’s bread and butter is Tate, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound junior from Inglewood, Calif., who is only 19 years old.
Tate played in seven games in 2016 — the season BYU defeated Arizona 18-16 in Glendale, Ariz. — then really burst onto the scene in 2017 when he rushed for 1,411 yards, the most for a quarterback in Pac-12 history. By way of comparison, BYU’s Hill rushed for 1,344 yards as a sophomore in 2013, the only season in which he played all 13 games.
BYU coach Kalani Sitake said Arizona is a lot more than a one-man team, but acknowledged Tate’s greatness as well.
“Really good athlete,” Sitake said. “Last year, he just used his legs a lot more. But he can throw the ball. He’s got a strong arm. I am more impressed with what he does as an athlete. He can do whatever it takes to make plays and win games. You saw when he was thrust into the spotlight, he was able to take advantage of it. We have seen a lot of great players. He just fits in the mode of another one. So it will be a great challenge for our defense.”
BYU will attempt to do what some Pac-12 defenses did last year when Tate was earning Pac-12 offensive player of the week honors for four consecutive weeks — pack the box and force Tate to beat it with his arm. Some were successful, some weren’t.
“He can definitely make the pass if he wants to,” said BYU defensive end Corbin Kaufusi. “But I just think because of his ability to run, he looks to do that more. If the option to run is there and the pass isn’t as open as he would like it to be, I am sure he will take off. So it will be big for us to contain him.”
Tate completed 62 percent of his passes last year for 1,591 yards and 14 touchdowns. He threw for 302 yards and five touchdowns against Purdue in the Foster Farms Bowl.
“He’s got a great arm,” Tuiaki said. “He showed that last year, too. A lot of stuff that he did running, he still beat people passing, too, just throwing the ball and letting his teammates make plays.”