SEATTLE — Ikaika Malloe released a long breath as he considered the question.
All around him, Washington’s defensive players and coaches were sitting on stools and fielding questions about Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate. Malloe was no exception. And he didn’t need long to come up with a response to the latest inquiry: Just how difficult is it to mimic Tate in practice?
“Oh, it’s hard,” Malloe said after a short pause. “You try to make sure that our quarterbacks are scrambling enough, but getting our DBs the work by throwing the ball. We’re trying to do both.”
That’s what Tate does better than any quarterback in the Pac-12.
He ranks third in the conference with 272 passing yards per game, but he’s also 12th in rushing yards per game with 65.3. Tate has 261 rushing yards in four games this season. No other quarterback has rushed for more than 200. Utah’s Tyler Huntley, who is 22nd with 190 rushing yards, is the closest — but he’s also played in one more game than Tate.
Despite missing two games this season with injuries, Tate has completed 81-of-120 passes for 1,088 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions. He’s also rushed for 261 yards and two touchdowns. Tate’s most impressive stat might just be his 7.3 yards per carry, which ranks third in the Pac-12 behind Washington State running back Max Borghi (7.7) and Oregon State running back Artavis Pierce (7.5).
During his press conference on Monday, UW head coach Chris Petersen attempted to sum up the Wildcats’ dynamic quarterback.
“I mean, he is something else,” Petersen said. “He really is. He can run like nobody I’ve seen in quite a long time playing quarterback. He creates a lot of issues with his feet and has a really strong arm. He can sit on his back foot and throw it 60 yards down the field, or he can scramble and flick it across the field. It’s all that kind of stuff.”
In the Wildcats’ victory over Colorado last week, Tate completed 31-of-41 passes for 404 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He also rushed four times for 23 yards.
“We know what he can do,” said UW defensive lineman Ryan Bowman. “He’s a really explosive guy. I played against him in high school. We know what he’s about.”
So, what was Tate like in high school?
“Same thing,” Bowman said with a smile.
Bowman wasn’t wrong. During his senior year at Junipero Serra High School in Gardena, California, Tate completed 127-of-233 passes for 2,036 yards, 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He was just as dangerous on the ground, finishing the season with 203 carries for 2,130 yards and 26 touchdowns. He had more than 100 rushing yards in 10 of his 11 games that season.
“He’s electric with his feet, but you can’t sleep on his arm, either,” UW inside linebacker Brandon Wellington said. “He’s explosive with his arm. … That’s something we both have to account for is the run and the pass from him. Even if it’s a drop back, he can extend it another 5, 6 seconds to get the receivers open and if they’re not, he’s going to take it and run it.”
To prepare the Huskies, freshman quarterback Dylan Morris is imitating Tate in practice this week.
That’s not an easy task.
“It’s pretty difficult,” Wellington said, “but I feel like our guys do a good job of keeping plays alive and trying to scramble. We have him run and then have everybody run to whoever has the ball.”
Said Malloe: “On our end, even if we make the tackle, we’re making everybody just keep running towards him … because that’s what he’s going to do. He’s sneaky. He’s fast. He’s powerful. For all of that, that’s really hard. But Dylan Morris has done a great job.”
Even though the Huskies faced a mobile quarterback earlier this season in Eastern Washington’s Eric Barriere, Wellington said Tate is at another level. Arizona’s offense centers around explosive plays, and that starts with Tate.
“When the guy who is the key to success is the guy that has the ball every single snap, that’s so hard to do,” Malloe said. “He has all the tools to take over a game by himself. Our work will be cut out of us and then he has a supporting cast that is just as effective. You’re trying to stop him but at the same time, you can’t take for granted everybody else on the field.”