OPINION: All eyes on Tate vs Oliver
A heavyweight fight will be taking place Saturday morning on televisions across the nation.
Khalil Tate and Ed Oliver are two of college football’s most electric players on their respective sides of the ball, and they will be lined up across from each other on almost every single snap, making for must-watch entertainment.
Oliver has been dubbed one of the most dominant nose tackles in college football since Ndamukong Suh and Glenn Dorsey who came before him. The Tom Herman recruit can take over and control a game by himself by dominating double teams, using his elite quickness and low center of gravity to be able to feast on the foes that make up Houston's schedule.
Arizona is on that schedule, and they are a familiar foe, after facing the Wildcats in Tucson last year. Oliver registered 11 tackles, with 1.5 tackles for loss, which helped Houston leave town with the three-point victory. It was an emphatic start to a season that saw Oliver earn All-American honors while winning American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
Oliver has had this game against Arizona marked on his calendar. Speaking with Sports Illustrated earlier this summer during his own cover issue, he called out Khalil Tate while discussing the prospect of him declaring for next year's NFL Draft.
“I don’t want to get [asked] after the game, ‘so now are you thinking about going?’” Oliver told SI’s Andy Staples. “I want it to be because I gave Khalil Tate a nightmare.”
The target has been marked on Tate’s back, and we get to sit back and see firsthand how the quarterback handles the potential top-5 draft pick coming after him for four quarters.
Unlike Tate, who had a lackluster performance in his opening game, Oliver dominated in-city rival Rice University. He piled up 3.5 tackles for loss, while practically living in the backfield the entire afternoon. Oliver is primed to give Arizona's offensive line headaches this week, while Tate looks to find the gear that awed Wildcat fans last October.
Will Noel Mazzone and Kevin Sumlin let Tate get into third or fourth gear? Seeing the potential Heisman trophy winner stuck in the right lane for the entire night was almost as excruciating as getting stuck behind a slow driver in the left lane.
“We certainly have to do a better job schematically to get [Tate] more involved with his legs,” Sumlin said Tuesday on the weekly Pac-12 coaches teleconference. “It’s something we’ve taken a really hard look at. It can only help to get his legs more involved in the offense.”
The seemingly obvious choice of game plan is one that will be eagerly awaited after an offseason that consisted of wondering what Tate would look like completely loose in Sumlin’s trademark spread offense. Yet, its opponent just happens to have the best defensive player in college football on its roster. Get your popcorn ready, it’s going to be a slugfest.
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