Few players at the college level have experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows quite like Arizona senior quarterback Khalil Tate. It all started on October 7, 2017 when then-starting quarterback Brandon Dawkins was injured on the first drive against Colorado. What transpired was a record setting performance that found Tate rushing for 327 yards, the most ever for an FBS quarterback in a single game, while singlehandedly accounting for five touchdowns. The Wildcats would leave Boulder victorious with a new starting quarterback ready to lead the team, kicking off a 4 game win-streak that only helped to build the myth around the growing star. Fast-forward to 2018 and Tate was gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated’scollege football preview, being hailed as “big and bad”, claiming “He runs like an RB. He hits like an LB. He’s the nation’s best QB.” before suggesting that the college football world should simply “hand him the Heisman”. By the time week one had wrapped up, Arizona was upset by BYU at home, losing 28-23 with Tate completing 17 of his 34 pass attempts with a mere 14 rushing yards on eight carries. By the end of the season, Tate had rushed for 224 total yards, never gaining more than 46 in any single game, with a paltry 56.3% completion rate, carrying the Wildcats to a 5-7 record without even a whisper of Heisman consideration. Unfortunately, 2019 hasn’t been much kinder to Tate, and the buzz that once surrounded college football’s next wunderkind has fizzled.
Though Tate’s time in Arizona has been marred by a string of injuries, it’s hard to see him as anything more than a one-hit-wonder, especially as his senior season comes to an end with middling numbers at best. So far, Tate has managed 132 completions on 217 attempts, giving him a 60.8% completion rate with 1,687 passing yards with an additional 331 yards on the ground. Couple this with a 12:8 touchdown to interception ratio, and it’s hard to imagine there was ever a time when Tate was viewed as the best quarterback in the nation.
Compounding the Tate drama, true freshman Grant Gunnell (6’5”, 222 lbs.) has been splitting time with the outgoing senior, completing 93 of his 139 attempts for 1,143 yards with nine touchdowns and just one interception. Through the air, it’s clear Gunnell is the best option behind center, however the heir apparent is a true pocket passer with less mobility than Tate in even his most stationary games, requiring a different game plan when the youngster takes the field.
Behind the quarterback duo of Tate/Gunnell sits a pair of junior running backs in JJ Taylor (5’6”, 185 lbs.) and Gary Brightwell. Taylor has taken the majority of carries, gaining 640 yards on 124 attempts with five touchdowns, while Brightwell has amassed 363 yards on 60 carries with five touchdowns to match. Neither back has the speed or size of the PAC-12’s best, which should bode well for Utah’s stout rush defense, especially considering as many as four Arizona offensive linemen may be out for Saturday’s matchup, including two full time starters in senior guard Cody Creason and junior center Josh McCauley.
If there’s one position group the Wildcats can rely on, it’s their receivers. Much like Utah, Arizona has done a fine job of spreading the ball around, with four receivers reeling in 25+ passes and seven receivers accounting for two or more touchdowns. Junior receiver Biran Casteel (6’0”, 195 lbs.) currently leads the team with 37 receptions, gaining 372 yards through the air with three TDs to boot, with fellow junior Tayvian Conningham (5’7”, 181 lbs.) not far his high mark, claiming 30 receptions for 356 yards and two TDs.
The Wildcats are currently riding a five game losing streak, which has seen them outscored by their opponents 116-223. By contrast, Utah has bested their last five opponents by a total score of 190-41. With two teams on completely opposite trajectories, it would take a whole lot of that 2017 Tate magic to reverse Arizona’s current outlook.