Khalil Tate’s 2018 started with so much promise. It ended that way, too. If only all that stuff in the middle—Sports Illustrated, Heisman hype, an injury, growing pains in a new system—didn’t happen.
The Arizona Wildcats were only going to go as far as Tate took them, and it’s safe to say they didn’t go far. The Wildcats finished the season 5-7, missing out on a bowl game in Kevin Sumlin’s first year, leaving everybody who had to sit through multiple games last year with a bad taste in their mouth, but none more than the now-senior quarterback.
“We went 5-7, so not too well,” said Tate when asked what he thought about the 2018 season.
The pressure that mounted on the dynamic quarterback’s shoulders was almost unparalleled, from a backup to being on the cover of one of, if not the most iconic sports magazine in the country in just a span of 10 or so months, all while trying to adapt to a new coaching staff.
“I wouldn’t say it was too much,” said Tate about the pressure. “I’d say it was new. It’s something that I had to deal with and I don’t know anybody that has dealt with it so it was definitely something that (I) wasn’t familiar with, so I just had to learn on the fly.”
The promising season that Tate looked primed to have was derailed almost as soon as it got started. Tate tweaked his left ankle in the second game at Houston, which would leave him hobbling for the next couple of weeks. That left him hobbled and made the entire offense look like it was in a walking boot.
“With my injury it kind of made it tough,” he said. “Because I couldn’t perform to the best of my abilities, so I think being injured kind of held me back a little bit.”
The nightmare season Tate endured led many to believe that Tate was seriously considering transferring or entering the NFL Draft early after his “no comment” answer after being asked if he was coming back following the season-ending loss to ASU. Those rumors, especially the transfer ones, were put to bed quickly.
“It was leave (for the NFL) or stay,” said Tate. “I knew I had a lot more to prove. I know I left a lot on the table. I know what my ceiling is and with the circumstances that I was dealt with last year I couldn’t really perform to the best of my abilities and show the next level what I can do. Thankfully I had another year to learn and find myself in this offense and do better and perform and show the (NFL) that I can be a quarterback at the next level.”
Finding himself in the offense is going to be the key component of Tate reaching his full potential in a Wildcats uniform. There were multiple reports during last season that Tate and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Noel Mazzone didn’t always see eye to eye, but the returning starter put those questions to rest.
“It’s been the same,” said Tate on his relationship with Mazzone. “I know my family has told me stuff they’ve seen on social media that we aren’t getting along, things of that nature, but I don’t know where that would come from.
“It’s always going to be difficult with a new coach. For a new coach and a new player, it’s going to take some time. It doesn’t happen overnight. Maybe sometimes it may, but other than that, it takes time.”
And time is running out. With Tate facing down his last full slate of games at Arizona, the chemistry between the play-caller and the playmaker could be the difference between winning eight games or losing eight.
“It took a year,” Tate said. “I think any time you put a new offense in, it’s going to take time. It doesn’t happen overnight, like I said. It’s going to take repetition, it’s actually going to take losses to really learn.”
And speaking of repetition, earlier this week Mazzone said that he is giving his quarterbacks equal reps in what is considered an open competition for the starting job. With Texas all-time prep passing leader Grant Gunnell and junior Rhett Rodriguez both bringing their unique skillsets to the table, Tate’s seemingly guaranteed spot behind center hasn’t looked this unsettled since he took over the job midway through 2017.
The competition isn’t scaring him away, though.
“Yeah I hope I would,” said Tate when asked if he embraces the competition. “It’s all about competition. Nobody lives on this planet by themselves, there are a lot of people in this world that you have to compete with other than football. Even in life you have to compete with them in order to get better so I think it helps a lot.”
The muddied waters isn’t shrinking Tate’s confidence, as his goals for next season are as clear as a Tucson morning sky.
“Win every single game,” he said. “But I think that comes with winning every single say, so it starts in the spring. I think we are doing a great job of getting the minor details down, because last season we missed a lot of the minor details and that really affected us.”
If Arizona and Tate can iron out the loose ends, we could be seeing him run loose again, and that’s something that we can all get behind.