When I asked Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate how he would describe his running style, I was not prepared for the answer.
"Finesse," he said.
That's weird. Now, I don't know Khalil Tate. Perhaps he's a really sarcastic 17-year-old. I hear that happens from time to time. Maybe he's a funny guy. Playful with the media. That's OK.
Let's try that again.
"It might seem different to other people, but I think it's finesse," Tate insisted.
Well, it seems different to me. And probably you. We all saw him Saturday night. The phrase to use is that he "trucked" defenders. We certainly didn't imagine him running over UCLA safety Jaleel Wadood, who, by the way, is a really good player.
Here is the video evidence:
But at that point in the interview, our own KOLD Sports Director Damien Alameda jumped in and asked, "Why exactly do you think it's finesse?"
"Just moving swiftly," Tate replied. "Running aggressive, but not super aggressive."
Whether he was pulling our legs or not, we're all in the fun getting-to-know-you stage with Khalil Tate. That includes the coaches. Because the Tate they saw Saturday night in an emergency relief effort at UCLA doesn't look like the Tate they have seen in practice since the spring.
"He played better Saturday than he's played in practice," said quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Rod Smith.
Tate completed 5 of 9 passes for 72 yards and two touchdowns in the 45-24 loss to the Bruins, also rushing 15 times for a team-best 79 yards. He played most of the second half.
Tate smiled in a knowing way when asked about the playing-better-than-you-practice theory.
"Me and practice, we get along," he said in a tone that intimated that they sometimes don't get along. "We have our days when we fight."
He added: "I just had to show them (the coaches) that in a game I can be trusted. ... It was great to show everybody what I can do. I'm going to show them more now."
It was a good first impression. Now, Smith wants to see that be a lasting impression, a daily impression.
"He's got to learn, in my opinion, how to practice," Smith said.
"He doesn't go hard in practice all the time. We are constantly on him, constantly trying to get him to practice at game speed. ... He's not in that mindset yet. He's used to half-speeding things. What he showed is that come game time, he can play at that speed and be OK.
"But now he's got to be able to show us that in practice."
Rod Smith on Khalil Tate's running and taking on defenders. pic.twitter.com/BAV4a9hpIV— Anthony Gimino (@AGWildcatReport) October 4, 2016
What we don't know is if Tate will start Saturday night at Utah by default, no matter how he practices. What will be the status of Anu Solomon (knee) and Brandon Dawkins (ribs) when Arizona releases its injury report on Thursday? And, even then, how accurate is that injury report?
At one point Saturday night, Tate -- listed at 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds -- did show a little finesse with a slow-down shoulder fake that helped him get outside on a would-be tackler. But mostly he was a downhill 18-wheeler with no brakes.
"He tried to run through a couple of people, which is not always recommended for your quarterback," Rodriguez said.
Said Smith: "You have to be smart. I want him to be smart, but I don't want to take away who he is, either. There is a fine line with that. Don't take unnecessary shots. But if he is going forward, he ain't taking a shot, he's giving a shot. I'm not worried about that."
Smith is also not worried about Tate being emotionally overwhelmed by the moment. On Tate's first possession, he directed a 15-play, 87-yard drive that ended in a short field goal. Then he came off the field and got on the headsets to talk to Smith.
"Calm as could be, man. He was cool as a cucumber," Smith said. "Actually, I take that back. He was pissed because he wanted to score a touchdown and we scored a field goal. ... But he wasn't rattled. He wasn't shook. He was pretty cool."
Arizona's quarterback position is going to be fascinating, given the uncertain health and the potential high ceilings of the young guys who have come in for Solomon. Tate might have the biggest upside, but he also has the most limited playbook of the trio and growing pains are to be expected.
"We all know the kid is super talented. We know what he's got," Smith said.
"But at the same time, he's got to play within the structure of the play early on. We've got to get him to do that instead of playing backyard ball all the time. But then when things break down, that's between you and the good lord and what he blessed you with."
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