LOS ANGELES — Khalil Tate was supposed to ascend to a new level in 2018. The year before, the quarterback ran for nearly 1,500 yards and he didn’t begin the season as the starter.
“Hype, it can be a great thing or it can be a bad thing,” Tate said at Wednesday’s Pac-12 media day. “Us, as a team, we didn't use it to our advantage. We kind of used it and got complacent.”
Tate rushed more than 10 times once in 2018. After running for 1,411 yards in 2017, Tate finished 2018 with 224. Arizona’s offense still led the Pac-12 in rushing yards but the electrifying Tate scurries that had brought the spotlight to Tucson were all but gone.
As the Wildcats finished with five wins, people wondered about Tate’s stance on the new system. Sure, the dual-threat quarterback was injured but that couldn’t be the only cause for the dip in the run game, right?
He had tweeted before Sumlin was hired that he didn’t want Ken Niumatalolo and the triple-option offense taking over Arizona. Perhaps he was unhappy with Sumlin’s scheme, or new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. Some reported Tate would transfer.
He didn’t and Tate now enters his senior season as the expected starter for Year 2 of the Sumlin era at Arizona. And so everyone is left asking the question: How did Khalil Tate go from one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country to an inconsistent pocket passer?
“People have forgotten about this monster named Tate that's still down there,” said Stanford coach David Shaw. “When he's healthy, he's as good as anybody in college football.”
It all changed for Tate at the bottom of a pile in Week 2 against Houston. After finishing a run, he felt a tug on his left ankle.
“I got up like, ‘It’s not right. I don’t feel the same,’” Tate told Yahoo Sports.
Tate figured it was a minor injury, but the next week against Southern Utah, he still couldn’t cut laterally. Each week, he felt he had made progress only to undo it all each Saturday. He compared it to being sick and continuing to work without resting or taking medicine. He never fully healed, playing the season at no better than 70 percent.
When Arizona traveled to UCLA, Tate didn’t dress. It would’ve been the first start in the Rose Bowl for the Inglewood, California, native.
“It’s as good as things were and as bad as things were giving him a perspective that maybe he didn't have at this point last year,” Sumlin said. “And I think it has affected his approach in the offseason.”
After the Wildcats missed a bowl game with a season-ending loss to Arizona State, Tate finally rehabbed his ankle. He felt normal cutting toward the end of spring practice and exemplified his ankle stability by shifting his body weight from foot to foot in a ballroom at the Hollywood & Highland on Wednesday.
He’s most proud of the mental growth required from the ailment. As close as quarterback and coach are linked in results, Sumlin and Tate never talked on a deep level either party wanted.
This offseason, they’ve sat down and grown closer. Tate has made a more concerted effort to understand the offense and ask questions rather than “just going through the motions.” There’s no animosity between Tate and Mazzone, and Tate said there never was.
“At the end of the day, social media, or whoever, is going to make whatever stories,” Tate said. “That's not anything that me or coach Mazzone can control.”
Tate claims he has deleted Twitter, and did so before the start of the season last year. But, what appears to be his account has tweets as recent as July 17. Regardless, he feels more pure looking at all media less.
With a new perspective on failure, Tate’s back to where he was: Flying under the radar. Only this time, he’s hoping to repeat old success.
“It's life and it's actually understanding that there's going to be things that are going to give you hiccups or forks in the road,” Tate said. “It's all about how you bounce back.”
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