Healthy again, Arizona star quarterback Khalil Tate ready to take college football by storm
Tate and the Wildcats will play at Hawaii on Saturday night
Two years ago, Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate was college football's darling. The dual-threat wizard came off the bench vs. Colorado on Oct. 6, 2017, and broke off 327 rushing yards -- a single-game FBS record for a quarterback.
He didn't stop running.
Tate finished his sophomore season with 1,411 rushing yards -- seventh-most among all FBS players. That, on top of his 1,591 passing yards and 26 total touchdowns, had Tate squarely in the Heisman Trophy discussion heading into the 2018 season.
And then ... thud.
Arizona lost to BYU and got smoked by Houston to open the season. Tate didn't rush for more than 20 yards in a game until Sept. 29. College football's darling became college football's forgotten man. Despite that, Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin wants you to remember who his senior quarterback is.
"He's one of the fastest human beings I've ever seen on a football field," Sumlin told me on College Sports Sunday on SiriusXM.
The problem last year was that Tate wasn't healthy. A nagging ankle injury was the primary culprit, but his shoulder and toe barked at him at various points throughout the season, too. The pain was so bad that Tate -- who hails from Inglewood, California, right outside Los Angeles -- missed his psuedo-homecoming at UCLA on Oct. 20.
"It was really hard for him to go back to L.A. and not play," Sumlin said. "That's how bad it was."
Despite being banged up, Tate threw for 2,530 yards, 26 touchdowns and only eight interceptions as the rest of the college football world focused on Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa, Oklahoma's Kyler Murray and Clemson's Trevor Lawrence. Sure, the Heisman conversation was long gone. But a running quarterback putting up those kinds of passing numbers while fighting through three injuries is nothing to scoff at.
"He's got an unbelievable skill set," Sumlin said. "He's got a really strong arm. And with GPS and stuff like that, the times that he has run are just ridiculous. We've got to keep him healthy. We'll see where he is. Right now, he's got a lot to prove and so do we."
Here's a look at how Tate's career has evolved in two seasons as the starting quarterback at Arizona.
The quest to provide that proof started in the offseason. A large slice of humble pie and a disappointing 5-7 season brought Tate and Sumlin together for the greater good.
"There was a concerted effort on my part to sit down and say, 'hey, man, here's what we see, where do you want to be, what do you want to do, here's how we can help you'," Sumlin said at Pac-12 Media Day. "It's part of maturity, because it's a lot different when walking in here last year when everybody told him how great he was and there was nothing [to] that -- gotta be honest. Now you've got a whole body of work, and so what are those things that maybe you're not doing so well that you need to pick up to make you a great player. It takes maturity, just like anything else, to know where your flaws are, accept those and then say, 'hey, you know what, I'm not -- I'm being critical for a reason because our goal is the same. We want you to be great. We want to be Pac-12 champions, and in order to do that, here are the things that you can do to help yourself be the best player in this league'."
He was just that two years ago -- "the best player in the league".
Three injuries, anonymity and a sneaky-good passing season later, Tate is prepared to make his triumphant return to college football's main stage on. If things go according to plan, the third edition of the "Tate Show" will deliver the happy ending that many thought would come last season.
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