Asked what stock he puts in comments made this week by Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin that quarterback Khalil Tate wasn’t 100 percent certain to play Saturday night, Cal defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter just smiled.
“I think coach Sumlin’s being coy. I’m just guessing,” DeRuyter said. “We’re preparing to see Khalil.”
Which Khalil they will see is anyone’s guess.
Tate was a dynamo runner last season, rushing for 1,411 yards at 9.2 yards per clip. He ran for 327 yards against Colorado, most ever by an FBS quarterback. Tate rushed for 137 yards against Cal last year in the Wildcats' double-overtime victory in Berkeley.
This season, Tate has a grand total of 69 rushing yards in five games.
And, according to reports from Tucson, a sprained ankle he sustained against Houston on Sept. 8 that may be curbing his enthusiasm for running the ball.
Any chance he’s just waiting to unleash his quarterback super powers on Saturday night, coach?
“Are you trying to jinx us?” DeRuyter responded.
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In any case, the Bears are expecting anything and everything both Tate and the Arizona offense can throw at them.
“He’s a dynamic player, a dynamic runner, but he hasn’t shown much of it this year. He showed a lot last year,” Cal linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk said. “He’s very mobile and very elusive. He’s an elite player, so we’ll be ready.”
DeRuyter points out that opposing defenses are gearing up to stop Tate, but adds, “When he wants to, he can make a lot of guys look silly with his speed.”
But Tate is operating differently in first-year coach Sumlin’s offense, working to develop his passing skills. Even when he drops back to pass, DeRuyter said, Tate’s ability on his feet can be game-changing.
“That’s one of our emphases this week - trying to keep him in the pocket,” DeRuyter said. “When he breaks out and extends the play, they do a great job of converting (pass) routes and he can throw it about a mile.”
Often his target is senior wide receiver Shawn Poindexter, whose 6-foot-5 frame makes him a challenge to cover for usually shorter defensive backs. Poindexter has 18 catches for 391 yards — 21.7 per reception — and a pair of touchdowns.
“They throw jump balls to him. They’re not 50-50 balls, they’re 90-10 balls,” DeRuyter said. “You’ve got to try to knock timing off at the line of scrimmage, and you’ve just got to go compete for the ball when it’s thrown up there for him.”
Complementing their 6-5 wideout is 5-6 running back J.J. Taylor, who lit up Oregon State’s porous run defense for 284 yards a couple weeks ago.
Head coach Justin Wilcox said in the video above that Taylor sometimes can be hard for second-level defenders to even find behind his offensive line.
“He runs really low to the ground. Runs very hard,” DeRuyter said. “Does a good job of spinning off tacklers. Our guys really know who that guy is because he’s a definite threat.”
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The Bears are coming off their first defeat of the season, a 42-24 loss to Oregon in their Pac-12 opener last week.
“Everybody’s pretty disappointed,” Kunaszyk said. “We let Oregon come in here and win the game. It wasn’t really anything they did — they’re a very good team, but it was more so on us. We feel like we beat ourselves.
“The attitude is people are ready to get back after it. We’re not happy with 3-1. We expect to win every single game.”
* Wilcox announced after practice Wednesday that running back Derrick Clark and offensive guard Henry Bazakas -- both backups -- will miss the remainder of the season with lower-body injuries.