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Khalil Tate or RhettRod? Arizona Wildcats’ QB decision likely coming soon
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Arizona football

Khalil Tate or RhettRod? Arizona Wildcats’ QB decision likely coming soon

Arizona quarterback Rhett Rodriguez served as a counselor at this year’s Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, Louisiana.

Khalil Tate could return from his ankle injury against Oregon … or not.

Rhett Rodriguez could make his second straight start … or not.

Such was the state of the Arizona Wildcats’ muddled quarterback situation Monday night. UA coach Kevin Sumlin said on his weekly radio show that he “probably” will make a decision sometime Tuesday.

Rodriguez started at UCLA last week and nearly helped the Wildcats upend the Bruins. Arizona lost 31-30. The son of former UA coach Rich Rodriguez rallied from a shaky start to pass for 231 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw two interceptions.

“I thought Rhett did some things that were really good, and there were some things he would take back,” Sumlin said. “He’s very, very critical of himself. But in the end, he gave us a chance to win the game. That’s the takeaway.”

Sumlin decided to sit Tate, who has been slowed by a sprained left ankle since early September. Sumlin initially suggested Tate would be out for a week, but Monday he said the junior’s status would require further evaluation. Players were off Sunday. The Wildcats conducted a light practice Monday afternoon.

“We’ll talk about it tonight,” Sumlin said Monday. “Then I’ll have a discussion with him tonight or tomorrow morning about where he is, and we’ll go from there.”

Tate attended the UCLA game in street clothes. He did not practice last week. Sumlin said Tate “was engaged all week with the other quarterbacks, with the team.”

Tate had started 15 straight games before sitting against UCLA. He exited after the second offensive series the previous Friday at Utah after aggravating the ankle on a tackle by the Utes’ Chase Hansen. Freshman Jamarye Joiner played the next two series before giving way to Rodriguez.

Neither Joiner nor fellow freshman Kevin Doyle played against UCLA. Sumlin said the team’s slow start — Arizona trailed 10-0 early in the second quarter — led him to veer from the third-series changeup he had thrown the previous two games. “It wasn’t time,” Sumlin said.

Arizona QB Khalil Tate has struggled as a passer vs. USC, never completing 50% of his throws in three starts.

The No. 19 Ducks have the second-ranked run defense in the Pac-12 — a byproduct of their ability to play man coverage in the secondary and put more bodies in the box, Sumlin said. The countermeasures for that include adding the quarterback to the run game. Whether Tate is healthy enough to execute that sort of game plan remains to be seen.

Poindexter on point

Receiver Shawn Poindexter is in the midst of a breakout season. The senior had six catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns against UCLA — his second career 100-yard game and his first game with multiple TDs. With 30 receptions, 552 yards and four touchdowns for the season, Poindexter has obliterated his previous career bests.

Several of Poindexter’s catches vs. the Bruins came on so-called “50-50 balls” — slightly underthrown passes that result in a one-on-one battle between the receiver and the defender. At 6-foot-5, Poindexter wins most of those.

“I thought Shawn Poindexter did a nice job last week in man-to-man situations and competing for footballs,” Sumlin said. “He has size. He has talent. He was productive in that situation.”

Twice Rodriguez recognized that Poindexter had one-on-one coverage down the left sideline. Rodriguez floated the ball up, and Poindexter came down with it. Their first TD connection came on a fade route that saw Poindexter cut in front of the cornerback covering him.

“I knew that I could trust him,” Rodriguez said after the game. “Every time I throw him the ball, it’s not really a 50-50 ball. It’s more than that.”

Sumlin said teams have shifted their coverages in recent weeks to try to take Poindexter away. On his second touchdown, he faced man-to-man coverage from a corner. A safety also remained on that side of the field. Poindexter got inside leverage on the corner, crossed in front of the safety and made the catch.

“It’s been harder on him in different games,” Sumlin said. “But if they allow him to play one on one, he’s proven that he can make plays.”

Poindexter couldn’t come down with Rodriguez’s last pass, a sideline throw into the end zone on third-and-4 from the UCLA 11-yard line in the fourth quarter. Down 31-27, Arizona settled for a field goal. The Wildcats never got the ball back.

“Just a miscommunication,” Poindexter said. “Rhett was looking for the back shoulder. I was giving him the fade. By the time I realized it, (it) was too late.”

Extra points

  • Sophomore linebacker Colin Schooler was named one of 20 quarterfinalists for the Lott IMPACT Trophy, given to the defensive player who best combines performance and character. Schooler has 14.5 tackles for losses, which ranks first in the Pac-12 and third in the nation.
  • Sumlin said PJ Johnson‘s presence has helped his fellow defensive linemen, giving players such as JB Brown and Jalen Harris one-on-one opportunities. Brown had 1.5 TFLs against UCLA. Harris had a sack.
  • Freshman Christian Young was the pick to move from safety to cornerback last week because he had proved himself on special teams and in limited opportunities on defense. Young made his first career start alongside fellow freshman McKenzie Barnes with Lorenzo Burns (injury) and Tim Hough (no longer on team) unavailable.
  • Sumlin said he hasn’t spoken to senior cornerback Jace Whittaker about the possibility of redshirting. Whittaker has played in only one game this season because of injuries and has yet to use a redshirt year.
  • Sophomore Brian Casteel has not been part of the receiver mix this season because of an injury, Sumlin said.
  • Sumlin said Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert is “extremely talented” and has “a lot of special players around him.” Sumlin added that the Ducks’ secondary is “probably as good as there is around.” Oregon ranks second in the Pac-12 in scoring, total offense and passing offense. Herbert, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL draft, leads the league in passing efficiency.


Michael is an award-winning journalist who has been covering sports professionally since the early '90s. He started at the Star in 2015 after spending 15 years at The Orange County Register. Michael is a graduate of Northwestern University.

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