After Utah’s win over Arizona last September, a Ute assistant coach told Khalil Tate he was happy his team didn’t have to face the Wildcats' backup quarterback that night.
That challenge awaits the Utes' defense in October. BYU’s experience comes even sooner — next week.
Tate appeared at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Arizona's loss to the Utes in 2016, but he stayed on the bench as Brandon Dawkins' backup last season when Utah won in Tucson. Sports Illustrated's college football preview issue profiled Tate this month; the story of the unnamed Ute coach's compliment presumably came from Tate.
In any case, Dawkins was injured early in the Wildcats' next game vs. Colorado, and Tate immediately started running like crazy. He rushed for 327, 230, 137 and 146 yards in four October victories. And now he belongs to coach Kevin Sumlin, who was fired at Texas A&M and landed happily at Arizona, inheriting a dynamic quarterback.
This is the seventh installment in a series about Pac-12 football teams in 2018. Today: Arizona.
Sumlin once coached Johnny Manziel during a Heisman Trophy season. Asked during the Pac-12 Media Day how Tate compares with any of his previous quarterbacks, Sumlin said, “He’s really fast, how’s that?”
As for what's next in Tate's development, Sumlin said, “Moving from an athlete that's a quarterback to a quarterback that's an athlete. … That growth is taking place, because as great as his numbers are, he's really a young player that hasn't played a lot. So there is a lot of room for improvement for him.”
Tate’s progress will be gauged by three Utah programs in the first seven weeks of the season: BYU, Southern Utah (Sept. 15) and the Utes (Oct. 12).
Arizona is picked third in the Pac-12 South, coming off a 7-6 season (5-4 Pac-12).
The Wildcats will succeed if:
The defense improves at all. The Wildcats' personnel is decent; Athlon Sports gives their defensive line, linebackers and secondary an average ranking of 6.3 in the Pac-12. That’s favorable, after a season when Arizona allowed 37 or more points seven times. Thanks mostly to Tate, the Wildcats won three of those games. Not having to play Washington and Stanford will help Sumlin.
The Wildcats won’t succeed if:
Defenses succeed in gearing themselves to stop Tate’s running, and he’s unable to thrive as a passer. The defense, led by linebacker Colin Schooler, also can’t expect the offense to repeatedly respond in high-scoring games. That’s how the Wildcats lost their last three games of 2018.