Quarterback Khalil Tate spoke with Arizona Wildcats coach Kevin Sumlin on Monday, and neither party pushed the idea of Tate transferring, according to a source privy to that conversation.
Reports that Tate was likely to transfer surfaced Monday, but the Star’s source said Tate has not expressed that desire to Sumlin.
That conceivably could change in the coming weeks or months. However, it hasn’t come up at this point.
The lines of communication between Tate and Sumlin remained open throughout an up-and-down season that began with Tate being touted as a Heisman Trophy contender; saw him struggle to play through an ankle injury; and finished with him playing some of his best football before an ill-fated fourth quarter in the season finale against Arizona State.
The idea of Tate transferring stems from possible friction between him and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, who's also Arizona's quarterbacks coach.
It is not known whether Tate, a junior, is on track to graduate before next season. If he were to graduate, he’d be eligible to play immediately at any other FBS school. If he didn’t, he’d have to sit out a year.
Tate enrolled at Arizona in January 2016, so he will have completed 3½ years of school by the end of the ’19 spring semester. Messages left with members of Tate’s camp to ascertain his academic status and future plans were not returned.
Asked after Saturday’s game whether he expected to be a Wildcat next season, Tate said: “Next question.” Sumlin said he would sit down with Tate to discuss his options, which include the possibility of declaring for the NFL draft. Schools can request evaluations for draft-eligible prospects. Tate is oozing with talent but is far from a polished quarterback.
Despite the ankle injury and having to adjust to a new offensive system, Tate passed for 2,530 yards and 26 touchdowns with only seven interceptions. As a sophomore, Tate threw for 1,591 yards with a 14-9 TD-INT ratio.
Tate’s rushing numbers fell off precipitously. He rushed for 1,411 yards as a sophomore, 224 as a junior. His rushing attempts also plummeted from 153 to 74.
Mazzone’s offense is different than Rich Rodriguez’s in terms of what the quarterback is asked to do. Mazzone’s system calls for more pocket passing, an area of his game that Tate was determined to improve.
When the Star and others reported in January that Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo had emerged as a leading candidate to succeed Rodriguez, Tate tweeted that he “didn’t come to Arizona to run the triple option.” Tate supported the hiring of Sumlin, who had worked with Mazzone the previous two seasons at Texas A&M.
Mazzone implemented a pass-oriented game plan for the season opener against BYU, and the offense struggled for a lengthy stretch in the middle of the game. The Cougars won 28-23.
Concluding that Tate might not be quite ready for such a radical shift, Sumlin and Mazzone fine-tuned the offense for the following week. They added more designed quarterback runs and zone-read plays.
However, in the first quarter against Houston, Tate tweaked his left ankle. The injury wasn’t severe enough to force him out of the game, but it clearly limited his ability to scramble.
The ankle bothered Tate off and on, and when he twisted it again against Utah on Oct. 12, Sumlin pulled him from the game. Tate sat out the following week against UCLA to give the ankle time to heal.
Tate looked much more mobile upon returning to the lineup Oct. 27 against Oregon. In the final four games, he threw 15 touchdown passes, completed 60.4 percent of his throws and rushed for 112 yards – half his season total. In the first seven games, he had 11 TD passes and a 53.4 percent completion rate.
Tate and the Wildcats were in position to defeat the Sun Devils, leading 40-21 entering the fourth quarter. Tate threw a critical interception, and he and tailback J.J. Taylor couldn’t complete a handoff, resulting in a lost fumble.
Tate overthrew a pair of open receivers on the final drive but helped put Arizona in position for the winning field goal. Josh Pollack’s 45-yard attempt missed wide right.