CFB's most elusive player meets its immovable object

Before the season, the Week 2 matchup between Ed Oliver and Khalil Tate had that mythical feel to it.

There was the immovable object at defensive tackle in Houston's Oliver and Arizona's unrivaled unstoppable force at quarterback in Tate giving the usual second weekend of dud matchups and overconsumption of cupcakes a contest of epic proportions.

Then came Week 1.

Oliver, who was last season's Outland Trophy winner, continued to look like the nation's best player, earning American Athletic Conference co-defensive player of the week honors with 13 tackles -- including tying a career high with 3.5 tackles for loss -- in Houston's 45-27 victory over Rice.

Tate, however, barely registered a murmur on the enthusiasm meter in the Wildcats' 28-23 loss to BYU. After averaging 128.3 rushing yards per game last season, Tate gained just 14 yards on eight carries for a measly 1.8 yards per carry. He also threw for just 197 yards and a touchdown.

We're now left wondering if Tate, equipped with a new coaching staff and offense, can get his groove back for Saturday's kickoff (noon ET, ABC/ESPN2).

To pull off a Stella-like comeback, Tate -- and new head coach Kevin Sumlin -- needs to dive into Saturday, uh, feet first.

"We certainly have to do a better job schematically to get him more involved with his legs," said Sumlin, who admitted to holding back some of Tate's running against BYU. "That's something we have taken a really hard look at. It can only help us to get him more involved [running the football], get his legs more involved in the offense."

Here's the thing: You now have Oliver to worry about. He's a legit Heisman candidate ... as a nose tackle. He's a pass-rusher ... at nose tackle. He entered the season second in NCAA history and first among defensive tackles with 39.5 TFLs ... in two years.

He's already declared for the 2019 NFL draft, and he'll probably go No. 1 ... even if he skips the combine, because he moves like a safety and hits like a Mack truck.

No matter what your offensive plan is, it goes through Oliver, and if Arizona is going to thwart him, Tate has to be the electric runner that helped him win five games last season and gain Heisman attention.

Sumlin would love to let Tate pilot this offense as more of a pocket passer, but Tate's success -- and subsequently Arizona's -- is predicated on his mobility.

With fewer designed runs and BYU owning the perimeter, Tate was just another player Saturday.

BYU was patient on the outside and didn't tee off on Tate, which usually opens up running lanes for him when he's forced to take off and defenses are manned up. BYU then laid a blanket over Tate's receivers.

"There were some things that we were doing to try to keep them guessing on a lot of stuff and keep them contained," BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. "We tried to play with a lot of things in front and we took some chances here and there and played a lot of coverage with our corners. They exposed it a little bit."

Seven of Tate's eight rushes (one sack) went to the outside, but only two went farther than 5 yards.

For perspective, 100 of Tate's 153 rushes were outside runs last season. He averaged 10.56 YPC on them, scored nine touchdowns and recorded 31 rushes of 10-plus yards.

Tate told ESPN this summer that he loves the idea of throwing more in Sumlin's offense, but he also knows how dangerous he is running the ball. He was at his best last season when he was on the move.

"Everyone knows what will happen when I get opportunities," Tate told ESPN this summer.

"I'm not a risk-taker, but I take chances."

And those chances went a long way last season.

This is still the same guy who set the FBS record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 327 in relief duty against Colorado, cutting and zagging to four touchdowns and seven rushes of 20-plus yards.

"I think every time he got the ball he almost got a touchdown," Colorado linebacker Rick Gamboa told ESPN this summer. "As a defense, we were in position and ... he just took over the game on his own.

"He didn't just do it against us. He did it against other teams in following weeks."

Yes, he did, and Oliver isn't naïve enough to take last Saturday at face value. He thinks Arizona's coaches held Tate back some, but will set him free this weekend.

"We have to prepare for Khalil Tate to be Khalil Tate," Oliver told ESPN this week.

"No one man can stop him."

But we're kind of hoping that Saturday is a two-man slugfest when these two are on the field together. They'll be so close, so often, and they're too good to not give us a show.

Sumlin couldn't even get through a question about how to stop Oliver, who will be right in front of Tate and over the snap the whole game, without laughing this week.

"The issue he presents is unlike great players where they say they take away a side or a part of the field, this guy's right over the football every snap," Sumlin said. "He's right in the middle of things.

"The good thing is we know where he is. The bad thing is, people have known where he was and still haven't been able to block him."

It's the same issue Houston coach Major Applewhite could have with the energetic Tate, who Applewhite said "totally changed" the game when he came in against Houston last season, despite not lighting up the stat sheet.

"That was a totally different team for the 3-3.5 quarters that he was not playing," Applewhite said.

One hopes Saturday will be four full quarters of two of the game's most exciting and frustratingly talented players.

Week 1 didn't do its part to add much drama to Saturday's prize fight, but Sumlin is too smart not to let his spark plug sizzle this weekend ... and Oliver can't wait.

"He's a great player and any time you get a chance to play against great players, it's just an honor to be in their presence," Oliver said. "He's not on the Heisman watchlist for nothing."