Ironically, the play Golden Tate will be remembered for against San Diego State is a fade route along the left sideline for the go-ahead touchdown in a contest that was at times, frustrating to watch.
As the Irish trailed 13-7 early in the 4th quarter, the Irish slowly inched back into the game thanks to a goal line forced fumble by Kyle McCarthy, which was recovered by David Bruton. Jimmy Clausen then led Notre Dame to a poised drive, using the no huddle. In the series, Clausen went 5-for-5 for 75 yards — no pass, however, was bigger than the 38-yard connection to Tate that put the Irish up for good.
In the play, Tate was lined up against single coverage against Aztec cornerback, Vonnie Holmes. As the ball was snapped, Tate immediately turned to his left and exploded off the line of scrimmage leaving his defender to try to catch him. Tate used his straight-line speed to gain separation and all that was needed was a perfectly lofted ball to be delivered by Clausen. Much to the relief of Irish fans across the nation, that's exactly what happened.
The play, however, wasn't originally intended to be a go, but was rather a pre-snap read. As the squad set in their formation, Clausen looked at the coverage and saw the two-safety look cheating towards the right side of the field, where Michael Floyd was lined up. After Clausen made eye contact with Tate, the rest was history.
"He had a quick out on [the play,] actually," Clausen said. "We looked at each other, he ran a fade and if I just throw it out to Golden, he's going to get it."
As the ball traveled off of Clausen's fingertips, Tate saw it coming his way and simply focused on hauling it in. For Tate, on the other hand, it all passed so quickly that it seems like a blur to him.
"I don't know what happened," he said. "I was running, and I got on top of the guy and I looked up to see where the ball was and I just focused on catching it, and I caught it."
During the two-minute offense, the Irish didn't try to overanalyze the game, and worry about the deficit. According to Tate, they simply worried about their system and what they could control. Because of this, Tate thinks the offense was more relaxed and poised for the scoring drive.
"It was like it was 0-0," he said. "We went out and played our game. We never got down and we always knew we had a chance. Jimmy kept us focused, the [offensive] line kept their focus and we kept our focus, so we just had to make some plays."
In that go-ahead drive, Clausen called Tate's number three times, and his receiver converted each time, amassing 63 yards on the three receptions. The Hendersonville High School product feels that he is building up a strong rapport with his classmate, Clausen.
"I sure hope so," Tate said. "I feel like Jimmy and I have developed a really great relationship during the off-season and trusting me and being ready to go, which is always good and coach Weis also does too."
Over the off-season, Tate worked at the technical aspects of the position — work that he feels is paying off.
"Yeah, the game has slowed up since last year," he said. "It's great. I have time to think about the coverages and my routes, so it's great."
Irish head coach Charlie Weis has also picked up on Tate's improvement, and as a result, has given him greater responsibility in the offensive scheme.
"Golden has become much more of a receiver this year versus a runningback playing receiver last year," Weis said. "Whether it be a go route where he keeps running now, his routes at the top of breaks, running slants, I mean, he looked like a receiver, that's what he looked like. He has very good ball skills and very good speed. I thought he really stepped it up for us today."
Going into the game, Tate knew well that his efforts on the practice field would become evident once the Irish played live competition to those watching across the nation.
"I felt I was making giant steps," he said. "But I didn't know until we faced another team if I was really making steps or if I was just kind of slowly moving on. And I feel like after this game, like I'm a more complete receiver and running all the routes and I know the system."
Of all the routes Tate ran, the majority of them were slants and quick outs, as he pointed out. Since the coaching staff is showing the trust in his route-running ability and knack for the ball, it is clear that he is becoming an integral part of the scheme early on in the season. Part of the reason as to why Tate was able to beat his defender is because the offense had shortened the passing game in the drive.
"We stepped to the short game," Tate said. "Slants, quick outs, and it just opened up."
Tate, who finished with six receptions for 93 yards and the touchdown eclipsed his career high for receptions, which previously stood at three against Purdue last season. In fact, Tate only had six receptions in the entire season last year. The 93 yards placed him as the contest's leading receiver, in addition to his lone kick-off return for 28 yards. According to Tate, his increased role in the offense is one he can get used to.
"It's great," Tate said of becoming more involved offensively in a win. "It feels great. I love it. Hopefully we can do it every week."
In a contest in which perhaps more questions and uncertainties were brought up, one doubt was emphatically answered — Tate is coming to play this season.