Khalil Tate did a lot of it on his own. The Arizona Wildcats quarterback ran past and through Colorado defenders. He made them miss. He improvised. He even leaped over the goal line.
He also had a lot of help from his friends.
The offensive line did its part, of course. But you can’t rush for 327 yards – an FBS record for quarterbacks – with three touchdown runs of 47 or more yards without exceptional downfield blocking.
Arizona’s receivers provided that and then some during Tate’s historic performance in Boulder last week. It’s what is expected of every wideout who puts on a Wildcats uniform. No divas allowed.
“It’s the first thing we talk about, the first day of practice,” UA receivers coach Theron Aych said Tuesday. “You’ve got to be able to block to play receiver here.”
Rich Rodriguez’s ground-oriented offense requires receivers to do more than run routes. He doesn’t necessarily look for blockers when recruiting receivers out of high school. But once they arrive on campus, it becomes a job requirement.
“You hope that they’re able to do it and willing to do it,” said Rodriguez, whose team hosts UCLA on Saturday. “Either way, when they get here, they’re going to have to do it.”
Rodriguez tries to promote a culture of selflessness. The way he sees it – and the way he expresses it to his players – is as follows:
“When one guy scores on offense, they all score, and they all get to celebrate together.”
Rodriguez said no receiver he has coached has complained about blocking too much and not getting the ball enough. This year’s group appears to have bought in with vigor and enthusiasm.
“I could catch one ball, I could catch 20 balls, I could catch no balls. As long as we’re winning, I’m happy with what my job is,” senior receiver Shawn Poindexter said. “I’m going to keep working hard no matter what.”
Poindexter has only seven receptions this season, tied for fifth on the team. He leads the receiving corps when it comes to aggression and persistence as a blocker.
“He’s the guy across the field that may be 50 yards away, and he’ll come back and try to get involved,” Aych said. “The other guys are starting to feed off that.”
Poindexter – Arizona’s biggest receiver at 6-5, 212 – took out two defenders during J.J. Taylor’s 27-yard run against Houston in Week 2. Taylor took a pitch to the left, then cut back to the right sideline. Poindexter started out on the back side of the play but stayed alert in case Taylor changed directions, which he is wont to do.
“I was just trying to get one (defender) so J.J. could get around and get the edge,” Poindexter said. “I ended up hitting one and falling into the other. It was kinda cool.”
Aych teaches his receivers blocking techniques, and they work on them daily. Mostly, though, it’s about effort.
The Wildcats’ willingness to initiate and stick with blocks was evident throughout the Colorado game. Watch any of Tate’s touchdown runs, and you’ll see receivers escorting him through the secondary, even if sometimes they’re just getting in the way of would-be tacklers.
On Tate’s 28-yard touchdown run down the left sideline late in the first quarter, two Colorado defensive backs were so preoccupied with UA receivers Tony Ellison and Shun Brown that they barely tried to tackle Tate.
“The two DBs are so caught up in trying to fight our receivers, they literally took themselves out of the play,” Aych said. “Again, that’s that effort, being annoying, staying after those guys on every play.”
On Tate’s final touchdown run, from 75 yards out early in the fourth quarter, Brown’s relentlessness frustrated Colorado’s Dante Wigley to the point that he yanked Brown to the ground by his facemask, drawing a 15-yard penalty.
“Our wide receivers blocked their (butts) off,” tight end Bryce Wolma said. “It was crazy.”
Besides helping the team produce points, receivers have another incentive to block: It’s the one time they get to hit somebody.
“Every once in a while, I do encourage them to take a shot on a guy,” Aych said. “This is our chance to be aggressive on them, because they’re going to try to hit us all day.”