Auburn's Tate enjoying career turnaround
The Auburn tailback has already bowled over his numbers from last season, becoming a dominant runner in the Tigers' new offense and the team's most consistent offensive threat. Those past struggles are well behind him.
"I don't really think about last year. Last year was a bad year," Tate said. "I thought about it in the offseason to drive me, but now that we're past that I just think about one thing, and that's taking it one game at a time."
The approach is working so far. Tate's 724 yards leads the Southeastern Conference and ranks eighth nationally, and also easily tops what he managed in twice as many games last season.
He ran for a career-high 184 yards at Arkansas and scored on a 60-yarder during a failed comeback attempt in the third quarter, when he also had a 1-yard TD.
Last year, Tate struggled along with the rest of the offense in managing just 664 yards and a career-low 4.2-yard average per carry. He had just 163 yards over the final six games, and Mario Fannin eventually took the starting role from Tate and Brad Lester.
Fannin is now mostly used as a receiver.
And Tate? He's rapidly climbing toward the Top 5 on Auburn's career rushing list despite starting only nine games the previous three seasons. With 2,683 career yards, he needs just 128 more to match No. 5 Stephen Davis on a list that includes the likes of Bo Jackson and Carnell Williams. He's 24 yards from No. 7 Ronnie Brown.
"He's been a load with inside running," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. "The thing that's been pleasing to see has been his bouncing some of those runs to the outside. It's hard to bring him down with one guy. If one guy misses a tackle he's got some speed where he can turn the corner a little bit and get some yards after contact. It's been good to see him run."
Tate has flourished in Gus Malzahn's offensive system, and so has Auburn's running game. The Tigers' 251.8-yard average a game is second in the SEC and seventh nationally.
The ground game has almost exclusively been the work of Tate and freshman Onterio McCalebb, with some help from wildcat quarterback Kodi Burns. Tate and McCalebb have impressed Kentucky coach Rich Brooks, whose team has already faced No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Alabama and their dominant running games.
"I think these backs are as good as any backs that we have faced this year," Brooks said. "These Auburn backs are very dangerous. They're physical and fast."
Tate might like to emphasize the "and fast" part. The 5-foot-11, 218-pounder likes flashing the speed on runs like that career-long 60-yarder when he has primarily been known as a between-the-tackles, power runner.
It comes as no surprise to him.
"It's not really satisfying to me, because I always knew I could do that," Tate said. "Maybe guys like you guys (reporters) didn't know I could do that, but the coaches know and I know that I can do that. It's not a real big deal to me."
Kentucky's defense has struggled to stop the run. The last four opponents have had a 100-yard rusher, and the Wildcats are giving up a league-high 177.8 yards a game on the ground.
"You can't really go in there thinking about that," Tate said. "It's an SEC defense. Any time, they can buckle down. You always have to go in thinking that you're running against somebody like Tennessee or Florida, because those are great defenses and you have to approach every game the same."