That bright light rolling north down the I-10 freeway this week was the glare of the media spotlight that had been focused on the University of Arizona one-time Heisman hopeful, Khalil Tate.
But that spotlight has moved now to Tempe, where the state’s other Pac-12 football team calls home.
Media attention has suddenly turned toward Arizona State‘s sophomore sensation, Eno Benjamin. The elusive running back from Texas set a couple of new ASU rushing records in Saturday’s 52-24 blow-out win over Oregon State.
He smashed a single-game record that has held for almost half a century.
Ironically, Benjamin’s explosion in the stat sheets came much the same way Tate made his unexpected leap into the national spotlight last season. Tate took over the starting QB job in the fifth game of the season, when Brandon Dawkins took a first-quarter hit that sidelined him for the rest of the game.
Tate led the Wildcats, 2-2 at the time, to a 45-42 victory over Colorado and set a new FBS rushing record for a quarterback with 327 yards that also were the second-most in school history. He threw for another 142 yards to finish with nearly 500 yards of total offense in his first starting role.
The then-sophomore followed that performance with wins over UCLA and California and then upset No. 15 Washington State. He was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week after each of his first four outings, the first player to win four consecutive POW honors and just the second to win four in a single season.
Arizona went on to lose three of its last four regular-season games and got beat in the Foster Farms Bowl. But Tate finished the 2017 season with 1,411 rushing yards, even though he didn’t play a full season, and his performance during that four-game stretch was electrifying and earned him a place in the pre-season talk about potential Heisman candidates for this season.
But those dreams soon evaporated. He opened the season under a new coach and new offense that didn’t seem to take full advantage of his running ability and then, early in the second game, he injured an ankle that has kept him from playing at full strength since that loss against Houston.
Arizona is now 2-3. And last year’s runaway train has been hobbled. Tate has just 69 net rushing yards through five games and any thoughts of a Heisman nomination are a thing of the past.
Just as Arizona stood last year when Tate emerged as that team’s new rushing leader, ASU was also 2-2 when Benjamin broke out his big game against Oregon State. And he, too, was playing under a new head coach in a new offensive system.
But Benjamin’s talents seem to be a good fit for Herm Edwards‘ offense. Benjamin rushed for 131 yards in the season opener against UTSA and, after a couple of sub-100 games, he came back for 104 yards against Washington.
And then he broke the bank.
He ran for 312 yards against Oregon State, which set the ASU single-game rushing record and puts him at eighth on the Pac-12 all-time list. By the end of the first half, he had 185 yards, also a school record. He scored four touchdowns, three rushing and one receiving.
Benjamin’s 312 yards leads all rushers among D-I FBS schools this season and has earned conference and national honors. He was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week and has also been recognized as the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award National Player of the Week.
Perhaps Oregon State should be given a notation in the ASU record books. The player who held the rushing record that Benjamin broke was Ben Malone, who ran for 250 yards in 1973.
The opponent back then was…yep, Oregon State.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)