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What we learned from Arizona’s loss to ASU

arizona-asu-football-final-score-recap-tate-sumlin-herm-highlights-stats-territorial-cup Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona Wildcats lost to the Arizona State Sun Devils 24-14 on Saturday to cap the 2019 season with seven straight losses and a 4-8 record.

Our full recap can be found here, Kevin Sumlin’s postgame comments can be read here, and here are some additional takeaways.

Kevin Sumlin will be back in 2020

UA athletic director Dave Heeke immediately squashed any speculation about Sumlin’s future at Arizona when he told reporters after the game that he will remain head coach in 2020.

Sumlin’s seat had warmed considerably during UA’s seven-game losing streak, and Heeke admitted the program is not where he envisioned it would be after two seasons under Sumlin, but is committed to the rebuilding process.

2019 is the first time since 2007 that UA has missed a bowl game in consecutive seasons.

“Is it frustrating? Yes, I know fans are frustrated,” Sumlin said of the state of the program. “But we’ve got to trust the process, and we have a process in place that I believe in and a lot of our players believe in. I can say this, our guys don’t quit. We play hard, and you start there. But you’ve got to execute better, you’ve got to develop players. And that’s my job.”

Khalil Tate’s final game was fitting way to end odd career

Sumlin gave Tate one last hurrah by abandoning the two-quarterback system and letting the senior play all four quarters in his final college game.

The results, just like Tate’s career, were up and down. He dropped in a couple nice throws down the field, including two touchdowns to Jamarye Joiner, and rushed for 79 yards, flashing the dual-threat capabilities that once made him one of the sport’s most electrifying players.

Then came the mistakes that have made him one of the most puzzling players in the sport. Tate threw a trio of interceptions, two of which were the result of miscommunication. (The third was an accurate ball over the middle that clanged off Bam Smith’s hands and into the arms of an ASU defensive back.)

First, Tate threw a short pass to the left side intended for freshman Boobie Curry. Curry was blocking as if it were a screen play and Tate’s pass zipped to an ASU defender.

Later, Tate floated a deep pass down the far sideline that was easily snagged by a safety after Cedric Peterson stopped on his route.

“My receiver didn’t keep going like I thought he was,” Tate said.

It was Tate’s first three-interception game as a Wildcat. He described his experience at Arizona as “definitely different.”

It included a coaching change, a spot on the cover of Sports Illustrated, four straight Pac-12 Player of the Week awards, and two enigmatic seasons under Sumlin in which the QB could not recapture his sophomore-year form.

“There was a lot going on since the time I got here,” Tate said. “Sophomore year was pretty good. Junior year, I battled injuries. This year I’ve gone through a lot of adversity, so it’s definitely a learning experience for me. And I think for anybody else that followed my story and knowing you can be up and you can be down. I’ve seen both sides of that.”

It’s a good thing Arizona beat ASU for Jamarye Joiner

Joiner picked Arizona over ASU during the recruiting process, a decision that paid dividends Saturday and should continue to do so for the next three seasons.

The redshirt freshman hauled in seven catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns against the Sun Devils, the most receiving yards for a UA receiver since Cayleb Jones had 182 against New Mexico in 2015.

“It’s a lot of preparation during the week to get on the same page as the quarterback and knowing where I have to be,” Joiner said.

The Tucson native finishes the season with 34 catches for a team-high 552 yards and four touchdowns—quite a feat for a guy who transitioned from quarterback in fall camp.

“That’s definitely an inspiration for Jamarye to make that move and be successful as he is,” Tate said.

And something Arizona fans can actually feel good about after an otherwise listless season.

“For a guy who’s played receiver for basically for five months, he’s gotten better and better and better every week,” Sumlin said. “He was still playing quarterback in June. He’s learned the position, he’s become a better route runner. He’s returning punts, too, he’s gotten there. He’s got a bright future.”

Special teams need to be revamped

Arizona’s defensive staff has already been overhauled. Now it’s time to revamp the special teams.

It was a dismal year for the unit in all aspects. Lucas Havrisik missed two more field goals Saturday, dropping his season percentage to 58.8 percent, the worst mark of his career and the worst for an Arizona kicker since 2011.

The punting game was atrocious all season, averaging just 38.8 yards per kick, which ranks in the bottom 20 nationally.

As far as the return game goes, the Wildcats did not return a punt or kickoff for a touchdown and had several muffs. When they did return punts, it was just over six yards a try.

Arizona averaged 21 yards on kickoff returns. Calling a fair catch on a kickoff gives you the ball at your own 25-yard line. Let’s leave it at that.

Sumlin makes questionable decisions

Given how poor Arizona’s special teams have been, Sumlin trusted them far too much in this game.

He opted to kick a field goal on 4th-and-3 at ASU 29 in the first quarter, which Havrisik missed. He then trotted Havrisik out there again on 4th-and-goal at the ASU 8 while trailing 21-7 with 13:45 left in the fourth. He missed again.

Another odd decision, though not related to special teams: Sumlin decided to go for it on 4th-and-2 at his own 40 late in the first quarter—just minutes after sending Havrisik out there on 4th-and-3 in ASU territory.

Why go for it in that situation but not the other? It’s that kind of decision-making that only adds to UA fans’ frustration with Sumlin.