Digging into the Struggles of Khalil Tate and Kevin Sumlin
Khalil Tate became one of the most exciting players in all of college football in 2017 with head coach Rich Rodriguez. Tate looked like the next Pat White for Rodriguez and it seemed like these two were going to be headaches for defensive coordinators everywhere. Tate rushed for 1,441 rushing yards with 12 touchdowns during his sophomore season and was poised for stardom going into his junior season. Arizona fired Rodriguez in 2017 and in stepped former Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin. Through five games under Sumlin, Khalil Tate has rushed for 70 yards and two touchdowns and has looked like a shell of himself this season.
During the preseason, Khalil Tate was listed as 15/1 odds to win the Heisman on Bovada, but as of Week 6, he has been taken off the board completely. Sumlin has found a way to take one of the most talented dual-threat quarterbacks in the country and has turned him into a one-read, pass-first quarterback.
In 2015, Sumlin recruited the most decorated Texas football recruit in some time named Kyler Murray to come to Texas A&M and lead his offense to the top. The Kyler Murray experience with Sumlin was an utter disaster and he somehow made Murray look like just another guy. After an abysmal 6:7 touchdown to interception ratio, Murray transferred to Oklahoma and has become a household name to football fans. Sumlin is falling into the classic case of putting players into a system regardless of their strengths and just hoping everything works. He already found a way to hold back Kyler Murray and now he is doing the same with Khalil Tate.
Rich Rodriguez runs a run-heavy spread offense that uses tempo, the zone read and power runs with simple pass concepts to gash defenses for huge gains. Tate’s skillset was tailor-made for this Rodriguez offense and those who disagree are simply naïve. In 2017, Tate dropped back 16 times a game while averaging 14 carries. Under Sumlin, Tate averages a whopping 30 drop-backs a game to go with seven carries. Dropping back 30 times a game with a quarterback who has an inferior arm to most doesn’t seem like the recipe for success. Khalil Tate ranks 4th in the PAC-12 in AY/A with 9.0, 5th in passing yards per attempt but ranks 11th in completion percentage which means he’s throwing the ball downfield more than most but is completing them at a far less rate than the others.
Sumlin lines up in trips right with the lone WR tight to the line of scrimmage. The Wildcats run a mesh sit concept in the middle of the field with a wheel-stop/post combo with the other two wideouts in trips. Tate’s eyes are locked onto the wheel/post and he proceeds to airmail the post with the wheel-stop open towards the sidelines.
Against the 118th ranked defense in college football, Khalil Tate was asked to drop back 45 times. Tate finished that game with zero touchdowns, two interceptions, and seven carries. This play was his first interception of the game on the opening drive. The two outside WRs run 15-yard curl routes with the slot running a deep drag. Once again, Tate’s eyes lock onto the middle of the field and throws a hospital ball between three defenders for an interception. The WR on the far side is open if Tate waits for a split second and even the running back in the flat could be used as a check down. The comfort level with this offense is clearly not there.
Yeah, this whole situation is as ugly as it gets. It also doesn’t help that Sumlin keeps throwing his quarterback under the bus. This offense is clearly not a match for Khalil Tate but his coach is not doing him any favors by playing to his weaknesses and not his strengths.
Sumlin is doing what he does best and that is wasting elite level talent. The graphic above shows where Arizona was ranked in 2017 and is ranked currently in 2018 in those statistical categories. The volume at which they are running is near identical, Arizona runs the ball 42.2 times a game compared to 46.9 times in 2017. Sadly, Tate is stuck with Kevin Sumlin this season and who knows what will happen once this season ends. Sumlin found a way to waste Kyler Murray in 2015 and now we could be heading towards the same situation with Khalil Tate.
Sumlin has chosen the system over the quarterback and that decision could be the downfall for a player who had tons of hope coming into this season. If anything, hopefully, this provides a lesson for coaches to check their egos at the door and build around the players rather than the system.