What awards can we give Khalil Tate?
The Arizona quarterback burst into the college football spotlight in Week 6, when he came off the bench in a 45-42 win over Colorado and put forth the best statistical performance any player has had in any game this season. He ran for 327 yards on just 14 carries, scored four touchdowns, and set a college football record for most rushing yards by a quarterback while also completing 12 of 13 passes for 154 yards and a fifth touchdown. The performance was an outburst so freakishly random that it seemed more like a cute story than the birth of a new college football god.
But in the four weeks since, something stranger has happened: Tate has kept it up. Two weeks ago he ran for 230 yards and two touchdowns in a win over UCLA, and last week Tate racked up 137 rushing yards and added two touchdown passes in a 45-44 double overtime win against Cal.
On Saturday night, 15th-ranked Washington State saw what Tate had done to the first three teams he played, so it made sure to put defenders nearly everywhere he could possibly run. As a result, Tate turned to the air and had his best passing game of the season: 275 yards to go with 146 yards rushing and a 58-37 win. The Wildcats averaged 11.5 yards per play in the contest, which put them on par with some historical whoopings.
I watched the final of the 100-meter dash at the Olympics in Rio. Usain Bolt got a bad jump, and, about 30 meters into the race, the guy sitting next to me yelled, “OH NO!” because Bolt’s bad start had him near the back of the pack. But it didn’t matter, because Bolt’s top speed—if that was his top speed and not a jog—was faster than everybody else’s. I think about that when I watch Khalil Tate overtake safeties who began 20 yards downfield of him and keep chugging along at a higher pace than they could dream of:
Tate has started only four games, but already has 926 rushing yards,13th in the nation. The only other quarterbacks in the top 40 are Lamar Jackson and signal-callers for triple-option teams. His efficiency stats put him on par with Heisman winners and no. 1 overall draft picks:
(Well, Heisman winners, top picks, and Colt McCoy, but McCoy was pretty good too.)
Tate has been so good and so consistently good that it’s time to shift the narrative forward. The story is no longer about how it’s kinda funny that coach Rich Rodriguez didn’t start Tate for the team’s first few games—he was apparently injured, but wasn’t on the injury report—but how Tate is seriously in the running to be considered one of college football’s best players.
Can we give a Heisman to a guy who didn’t start until October? If Tate keeps it up, he has to at least be in New York. And I think we should be careful about giving too big an advantage to Saquon Barkley and Bryce Love for their Septembers, which featured exceptional performances against Akron, Georgia State, and Rice.
The Wildcats are 6-2 with a three-point loss to Houston and a six-point loss to Utah, both which came before Tate was a starter. What if they run the table and finish as Pac-12 champions at 11-2 with two pre-Tate losses? We shouldn’t bump the Wildcats over any one-loss teams in the College Football Playoff hunt in this hypothetical—of course, it is partly Arizona’s fault for not being smart enough to realize who Tate was until a third of the way into the season—and no two-loss team has ever made the playoff. But this year’s been weird. If we reach a situation where multiple two-loss teams are in playoff consideration, I think the nature of Arizona’s midseason transformation should be taken into account. Like with Bolt, we should consider the majesty of somebody’s top speed even if they did sleep on the starter’s pistol.
Play of the Week
Here’s the worst blocking job you’ll see all season, and it happened on a play that resulted in a touchdown.
Believe it or not, this isn’t a massive screwup by the Panthers’ offensive line, but exceptional discipline. This is a trick to ensure an offside penalty on the defense. Before this play starts, a South Alabama player sprints way across the line of scrimmage, lured by a hard count. And as he crosses into an illegal position, Georgia State’s center snaps the ball. The rest of the offensive line is taught to stay absolutely still when running this hard count to ensure that it doesn’t get baited into a false start by a defender sprinting toward the line. And it’s taught to stay that way for the whole damn play.
Georgia State’s offensive coordinator is Travis Trickett. Perhaps you remember his brother Clint Trickett, a former quarterback at Florida State, West Virginia, and the quarterbacks coach on the Netflix documentary Last Chance U. Travis and Clint’s father is Rick Trickett, the offensive line coach at Florida State. And Rick’s Seminoles offensive line used to do this all the time:
Here’s another example. However, this strategy doesn’t always work out; it led to this infamous blooper, a now-viral video of an offensive lineman standing like a statue under the impression his team had caught somebody offside:
I’ve spent eight years mad at the ESPN commentators in that video for not understanding why the offensive lineman was standing still.
The blooper reveals an obvious problem with this tactic. Why not block? Does the occasional offside outweigh the possibility your QB will get sacked on a live play where your offensive linemen mistakenly act like they’ve seen Medusa? And even if you do catch an opponent offside, doesn’t it make more sense to have your offensive line block to give the team’s free play the greatest chance of success?
But this Georgia State play takes that into account. It’s designed as a quick hitter, and the QB has the ball out to an open man in the end zone within three seconds. Congratulations to GSU’s offensive line for having the discipline to do nothing in order to help its team succeed, even at the risk of viral infamy.
Comeback of the Week
I thought Jim McElwain would be the fourth, maybe fifth coach fired this SEC season. Sure, he was awful: Florida hired him only because he was an offensive coach with a history of quarterback mentorship, and the Gators’ previous coach was Will Muschamp, a personified Chain Chomp from the Mario video games. And yet under McElwain, the Gators regressed: In Muschamp’s final season, Florida was 56th in points per game. In three years under McElwain, they were 100th, 107th, and, this season, 109th.
But there are so many bad SEC coaches! There’s Butch Jones at Tennessee, whose team might be so bad that it even loses the life championship this year! There’s Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M, where at least one guy who could help get him fired has already gone on Facebook rants about firing him!
But McElwain got to work, embarking on a three-game losing streak including a 42-7 dismemberment at the hands of Georgia on Saturday. Plus, McElwain’s unsubstantiated claim that he received death threats apparently was enough for Florida’s lawyers to argue that the coach could be fired with cause, which could result in the coach getting as little as $4 million of his $13 million buyout. (Personal goal: get through life without saying anything that costs me over $100,000.)
I want to congratulate McElwain on a tremendous performance, both on the field and off, to surge and become the SEC’s first coaching domino to fall. Incredible work.
Weekly Heisman Winner
Normally I do something jokey here. But holy hell, J.T. Barrett. I wrote about this Saturday, but Barrett’s performance receives infinite praise. With Ohio State’s season on the line, against one of the best passing defenses in football, he played perfectly, completing all 13 passes he threw and throwing as many touchdowns as the undefeated Nittany Lions had allowed in their first seven games. Throw this in the trash.
Game of the Week
Same. Game of the year, maybe.
Uniform of the Week
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield began his career as a walk-on at Texas Tech, then became the Red Raiders’ starter, but transferred because of scholarship-related confusion. When the Sooners visited Lubbock last year, Texas Tech fans had more than just fresh tortillas for Mayfield—they wore shirts that read TRAITOR with an Oklahoma map. (If one school offers me a scholarship and another does not, I will gladly accept traitor status in exchange for taking the scholarship.)
Anyway, this year, Mayfield got his hands on one of those shirts:
He also gave a referee some Halloween candy.
Between this and the (attempted) flag plant, Baker Mayfield is Oklahoma’s second-best chronicler of perceived acts of sports disrespect, behind only Russell Westbrook, who is the world’s best chronicler of perceived acts of sports disrespect. He’s currently second in the nation in completion percentage and yards per passing attempt, but seems to lead the nation in Fewest F’s Given.
Uniform of the Week (Structural Integrity Edition)
I think I’ve almost included 11 Rashaad Penny highlights in this column over the course of this season. The San Diego State running back does bad things to people. (This UNLV defender is still planted in the field—the Rebels just play games around him these days.) But Penny had his play of the year Saturday night against Hawaii—or Sunday morning for those of us on the mainland. We’re used to running backs trucking players, but here’s Penny towing Hawaii’s Jahlani Tavai:
It’s not so surprising to me that Penny, a 220-pound man, could pull a 235-pound linebacker. I’m more impressed with the tiny piece of fabric that just refused to give up, like a piping-hot strand of mozzarella cheese hanging onto the rest of the pizza from a slice you shouldn’t eat yet. It would have been better for Penny if the shirt had just snapped, but the inanimate object showed great determination here.
Surprise of the Week
Dartmouth had a 14-0 lead on Harvard in Ivy League play when the Big Green fumbled a punt. That led Dartmouth defensive quality control coach Dion King to punch out a press box window:
Did you guys know Ivy League football got down like this? I’m surprised any Ivy football folks found a way to get this mad about anything considering how well the stock market has been doing recently.
Upset of the Week
The longest win streak in college football was snapped on Sunday, as Pittsburg State beat back-to-back Division II champions Northwest Missouri State 20-10. The Bearcats had won 38 straight games, two short of the Division II record, but the Gorillas—yes, Pittsburg State is the Gorillas—scored 17 unanswered points in the second quarter. I think the best FBS comp for Pitt State–Northwest Missouri State’s competitive balance is something like Alabama-Auburn—Northwest Missouri has won three of the last four national championships, but Pittsburg State won in 2011.
But I’m skipping over the important stuff—here’s Pittsburg State’s gorilla mascot, here’s Pittsburg State’s gorilla statue, and here is a sweet “Go Rillas!” T-shirt. I don’t know how we decided which wild creatures became mascot fodder and which got left behind, but man, we’re missing out on a lot of good ones. Congrats to Pitt State for breaking the Wildcat-Bulldog mold—and being good at football, too, although that’s less important.
Moment of the Week (According to Me and Only Me)
TIRED: Getting strip-sacked to end a game.
EVEN MORE TIRED THAN THAT, PERHAPS EVEN EXHAUSTED: Throwing a game-ending interception.
WIRED: Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke fumbling the ball in triple overtime, picking it up, panicking, running around, and hurling the ball across his body into double coverage for an interception:
I was going to make this entire post a 7,000-word ode to Northwestern’s triple-overtime upset of 16th-ranked Michigan State, but I was told this was “a bad idea” and that I could “get fired.” And I really need this job, because apparently it’s going to cost a lot of money to fix all the doors and walls I ran through during Northwestern’s triple-overtime upset of 16th-ranked Michigan State.
Fiasco of the Week
Man, Bret Bielema really wanted this award. He ran a jet sweep on a play with two separate offensive lines (it did not work).
He called a fake fumble pass on fourth-and-1. (It also did not work.)
Thanks to these decisions and others, the Razorbacks went down 31-7 against Ole Miss. But the Rebels blew it, and Arkansas had a chance to win the game with a 34-yard field goal attempt.
Ole Miss interim head coach Matt Luke had all three of his timeouts left. He proceeded to use all three, back-to-back-to-back, in an attempt to triple-ice Arkansas kicker Connor Limpert. The idea behind icing is that it makes a kicker think about the kick, perhaps psyching him into screwing up his mechanics. But a triple-ice just gave the sophomore three chances to confirm that a 34-yard field goal wasn’t that hard, banging kicks through the uprights after each timeout. And then he drilled it:
I guess that when you’re an interim coach, you might as well try something that could lead to a win and make you look smart, and that Luke had nothing to lose by using the timeouts. The actual worst coaching move was blowing a 24-point lead as an interim coach, a great advertisement of your lack of in-game management skills.
Game-winner of the Week
Last week I wrote a lot about UMass, a move that I thought would fulfill my UMass quota for the year. But a week after winning their first game of the year, the Minutemen doubled their win total, taking down previously 5-2 Appalachian State with a game-winning field goal:
It must be hard, being a kicker and telling all of your friends that you’ll do a backflip if you hit a game-winning field goal. … only for your team to start off 0-6 Congrats to Logan and all the Minutemen, who may never lose a football game again.