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Houston’s Major Applewhite on Khalil Tate: ‘He’s an elite player’

The Arizona quarterback hardly played against the Cougars last year

BYU v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Houston Cougars got a very brief look at Arizona Wildcats quarterback Khalil Tate last season, but it was enough to impress head coach Major Applewhite.

“The game totally changed when he entered the game in terms of what he provided them at quarterback,” Applewhite said Monday as the Cougars prepare to rematch the Wildcats this weekend.

If you recall, Tate relieved Brandon Dawkins early in the fourth quarter in last season’s contest and moved the ball well. He was 5-for-8 for 41 yards and ran for 24 yards on eight carries before throwing an interception late in the fourth quarter. Arizona lost 19-16.

“That was a totally different team for the 3-3.5 quarters that he was not playing,” Applewhite said. “It came down to the last series, up three, and they’re either going to kick a field goal and take it to overtime, or they’re going to score and win the game, and then Garrett (Davis) had an interception there in the red zone to seal the game. The game totally changed when he entered the game in terms of what he provided them at quarterback. (Running back, J.J.) Taylor, Shawn (Poindexter) (Tony) Ellison, all of those guys are tremendous athletes, but when he came into the game, there was a definite change in momentum and the spark that he provided.”

Many wonder how that game would have transpired if Tate started from the get-go, but the UA quarterback will get a chance at redemption this Saturday when the Wildcats rematch the Cougars in Houston.

The Cougars know what to expect from Tate this time.

“He’s an elite player. He’s a great quarterback, who is very, very athletic,” Applewhite said. “He has a great host of talent around him in terms of Taylor and Ellison and Poindexter, who is playing great as well, so there’s a lot more to that offense than just Khalil, but he has all those weapons and he knows how to use them.”

The last part is debatable. Tate’s usage was questionable in Arizona’s first game under its new coaching staff. The dual-threat QB threw the ball 34 times and only ran it eight times for a measly 14 yards in a 28-23 loss to BYU, a far cry from the run-pass balance that made him so dangerous last year.

Coach Kevin Sumlin admitted Monday that Arizona’s coaching staff needs to put Tate — and the rest of the team — in better positions to succeed, but he did not necessarily say there will be a big alteration in the play-calling.

“What we have to do is play to our team’s strengths offensively,” Sumlin said. “I would say too it’s not just Khalil, I think for Shun Brown to have one touch, that’s not OK. ...It’s not so much about plays, it’s players and putting them in the right position for us to be successful.”