Khalil Tate was sky-high two years ago. He won four straight Pac-12 Player of the Week awards for the first time in conference history. But after a nagging ankle injury last year, Tate looks to get back to his former-self and maybe even better than he was before.
Tate led Arizona to a 7-6 record a year after a dismal 3-9 finish in 2016. Tate started off his season by running for a historic 327 yards in his first game against Colorado after starter Brandon Dawkins left early in the game due to an injury. That mark is still the most in a single game by a quarterback. Tate finished the season with 1,411 rushing yards, 1,591 passing yards, 26 total touchdowns and 9 interceptions.
Then last year, everything changed. Before the year started, Arizona fired Head Coach Rich Rodriguez and replaced him with Kevin Sumlin. Tate also made the cover of Sports Illustrated and was dubbed “the best quarterback in college football.”
After spraining his ankle early in the year, he was never able to get healthy and it would also force him to sit out a game in the middle of the year. But what Tate couldn’t do with his legs last year he did it with his arm. Tate passed for almost 1,000 more yards than he did the year before and threw 26 touchdowns, although he only ran for 224 yards and 2 touchdowns.
So what is there to expect from Tate this year? At media day, one of the first questions asked was about his health. Tate’s response: “I’m 100%.”
“[Tate] gets hurt week two and does not get healthy, even sits a game with injury in a year where there’s high expectations,” Sumlin said. “You know that can be frustrating for him, and I think as the season went on, because of what the approach was and because of the injury it led into, some things that weren’t very good.”
If that’s the case with how he was with his legs two years ago and his arm last year, expect a big year out of him this year. In the season opener against Hawai'i, Tate threw for over 300 yards and rushed for over 100 yards. That’s the first time in his career he’s done that. Granted, it was against Hawai’i and they aren’t a Power Five team, but to still start the season on that note is a good sign for him and the rest of the Wildcats’ team.
The biggest problem that Tate should have this year is getting used to his new receiving core. The Wildcats lost Shawn Poindexter, Shun Brown and Tony Ellison, who were all some of Tate’s favorite targets last year. This year, he’ll still have Stanley Berryhill III, Cedric Peterson and Bryce Wolma all returning as starters, and he’ll get new targets such as Drew Dixon and newly quarterback-turned-receiver Jamarye Joiner, who Sumlin dubbed “the best athlete on the team."
The rushing side of the ball for Tate and Arizona should be mainly the same this year. J.J. Taylor will be back for another year and Nathan Tilford, who didn’t see much playing time last year, should see an increased role.
Another year with the new coaching staff definitely won’t hurt Tate either as he will understand what Sumlin and Noel Mazzone want to do on offense. Expect a completely different Tate from last year but also expect a different form of him from 2016. He still has exceptional speed and elusiveness, and last year, with decreased mobility, he excelled with his arm.
If Tate can put everything together, he should be one of the best quarterbacks not just in the Pac-12, but potentially the country.
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