TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The comparison might not be all that fair, but given Auden Tate’s size, it’s almost inevitable. The 6-5, 218-pound Tate had just polished off a breakout performance in Saturday’s Garnet and Gold Game and was fielding questions from reporters when one finally asked: Have you looked at what Kelvin Benjamin did at Florida State? Have you ever talked to him?
Tate, a sophomore receiver from Tampa, has never met or spoken with Benjamin, although he has spent time studying Benjamin’s game.
It showed on Saturday, when Tate did a fine Benjamin impression, catching six passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns for the Gold team. The Gold tied the Garnet, 24-24.
“I see it as a time for me to step up,” Tate said. “Last year was more of a time for me just to learn the playbook, learn how to play, learn how to get my attitude right. It (helped) me a lot, so I think I can really make plays.”
More encourgaging than Tate’s raw numbers was the way he compiled them.
He caught deep passes over the middle of the field. He took short throws and turned them into long gains. He went up high and made circus-style catches.
And he did it all in a way that was, well, reminiscent of No. 1.
“You saw (Tate’s) body size and what he has a chance to be,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “And he’s got to get better. He’ll keep polishing those routes. But (with) that big body and those hands, he can be a weapon for us.”
Tate’s most impressive feat came near the end of the game – and, in a funny twist of fate, it never should have happened.
With the Gold trailing 17-14 and just seconds left on the clock, Tate ran a fade route to the back-right corner in the end zone.
Quarterback Deondre Francois floated the ball Tate’s way, and the receiver leaped over defensive back Tarvarus McFadden and came down – making sure to get his feet inbounds – with an 11-yard touchdown.
Nice play, except Tate ran the wrong route.
“I’m going to tell a story on Auden,” Fisher said with a grin. “He missed a signal on that last play. He was supposed to run a deep slant and he didn’t see (the signal) and he ran (a fade).”
If only all missed assignments ended so well.
“It was a miscommunication,” Tate said. “But our coaches teach us in practice, if you make a mistake, go full-speed in your mistake. Don’t slow down. So I just went full-speed and ‘Dre’ just put it up.”
Fisher still prefers that Tate run the right route, but he was pleased with the way Tate salvaged the situation.
“The play itself was phenomenal,” Fisher said.
Indeed it was:
And it bore more than a passing resemblance to one of Benjamin’s most memorable plays.
“(With a big target) you always have that bail out,” junior receiver Travis Rudolph said. “Throw that jump ball and he can go make a play.”
Tate’s emergence would be a major development for an FSU offense that has been missing a big-bodied passing target since Benjamin left following the 2013 season.
FSU’s most experienced receivers, Travis Rudolph, Bobo Wilson and Kermit Whitfield, are all capable playmakers. But Rudolph is the tallest at 6-foot-1, while Wilson stands at 5-10 and Whitfield just 5-8.
Not coincidentally, the Seminoles’ offense scored only 26 red-zone touchdowns a year ago and 35 in 2014. In 2013 – Benjamin’s last year – FSU led the country with 58 touchdowns in the red zone.
Benjamin, of course, was far from the only factor in all those touchdowns. But he was a big one.
There’s that comparison again. It’s a lot for a second-year player to live up to, but if Tate can bring his spring-game performance into the fall, it may not be so crazy after all.
Rudolph, for his part, is a believer.
“Tate’s going to be a great receiver for us,” he said. “He made some acrobatic catches, he has great ball skills and he has good body control.
“He’s locked in in the film room and the meetings. He’s going out there and making plays in practice as well. You guys saw it out there. He put on a show.”