KERRY SAYS: Defending Arizona (Tate) won't be easy
Oregon State's defense is tasked with trying to contain the sensation of the nation in college football — Arizona's phenom quarterback, sophomore Khalil Tate.
The player who won four straight Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week awards — aka "Mr. October" — runs like a tailback, but he's not one-dimensional.
"Kid has a heck of an arm," says OSU defensive coordinator Kevin Clune. "I've seen him sprint right and throw it all the way back left."
Despite starting in only four games and seeing significant action in five, The 6-2, 215-pound Inglewood, California, native ranks second in the Pac-12 in rushing with 1,087 yards and nine touchdowns — as a quarterback. Tate has also thrown for 930 yards and eight TDs.
"I'm not sure I've ever faced a quarterback with that much juice," says Clune, who has been coaching in the college ranks for more than 20 years. "If they lined him up at tailback, he'd be one of the best we'll see all year.
"He's a great runner and tremendous athlete. We're trying to figure out how to stop him."
That will be next to impossible. The challenge gets tougher when you consider Oregon State's second-best defender, junior linebacker Bright Ugwoegbu, will miss the first half of Saturday night's affair at Tucson after a targeting penalty in the second half of last Saturday's 37-23 loss at California.
Arizona is the Pac-12 leader in rushing offense (327.0 yards per game), but also throws for 180 yards per contest and ranks first in the conference in total offense (507) and scoring offense (43.9).
"You pick and choose what you're going to do (defensively)," Clune says. "If you just load the box, you hang out (the cornerbacks) outside. If you play too much coverage, Tate will find a way to hurt you in the run game."
All the while, OSU's defenders will key on Tate.
"The guy has wheels and can make moves," senior linebacker Manase Hungalu says. "He's the type of player who should be a receiver. Having a quarterback who can run like that is not what you want to play against, because you're so worried about all the other players."
Interim head coach Cory Hall knows what he'd like to see Oregon State's defense do.
"We have to stop the run," Hall says. "That's the No. 1 priority."
Hall wants the Beavers' offense to establish the run, too. They managed only 104 yards on the ground against Cal. "That's not enough," Hall says.
The Beavers are going with an injury-riddled secondary that will be without starting cornerbacks Dwayne Williams and Xavier Crawford, the latter, too, now ruled out for the season. So it may be that Arizona takes to the air more than usual.
Oregon State would love to end a 17-game road losing streak that dates to 2014. A victory would also be some solace for the OSU coaching staff, which has been working hard to keep the engine moving along without any assurance there will be a job for them next season.
"The show must go on," Clune says. "However I feel about what has happened, we just have to get it done. Working with the guys on this staff has been great. We're doing what we can to put the players in position to win. In December, maybe I'll have my feelings about all these different things. For now, we go to work."
Oregon State has been competitive — heck, should have beaten Colorado and Stanford — in the three games since Gary Andersen's resignation. I think it will be harder in the desert Saturday night. Southern Cal sacked Tate five times in a 49-35 win over the Wildcats last Saturday. If the Beavers don't get to him with pressure, too, Tate could seal their fate early.
THE PICK: Arizona 45, Oregon State 17