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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


A look back at the last two years of Arizona Football

Rebecca Noble

Arizona football runs out to the marching band and fireworks at the beginning of the Wildcats’ game against OSU on Oct. 10, 2015. This Saturday, Sept. 29 will be UA Athletic’s Hispanic Heritage Night, featuring local music and DJs and food from Tucson-Mexican food favorite El Charro Cafe.

It has been an interesting last two years for the Arizona Wildcats football team, to say the least. 

In 2017, they had very low expectations going into the season before they eventually lost in a barnburner to Purdue in the Foster Farms bowl. Meanwhile last year, in the team’s first season under new head coach Kevin Sumlin, the expectations were sky high for Khalil Tate and the rest of the team. The whole team underperformed for a multitude of reasons, as they finished with a losing record and missed making a bowl game. 

It has been two completely different seasons for the Wildcats each of the last two years, so let’s look at what went right and wrong for UA, before looking at what we can expect from the team this season. 

          RELATED: A closer look at Arizona’s season opener loss 

The expectations were at an all-time low for the Wildcats in 2017, coming off a disappointing 2016 campaign where the team finished 3-9 overall and an abysmal 1-8 record in conference play. Head Coach Rich Rodriguez was very clearly on the hot seat. After leading the program to bowl games in each of his first four seasons with the program, including a Pac-12 championship in 2014, it was now or never for the Wildcats after posting the team’s worst record in program history dating back to 2005. 

After starting the season 2-2 through the first four games, an injury to starter Brandon Dawkins in the team’s week-five match-up at Colorado opened the gate for sophomore sensation Khalil Tate. He rushed  for 327 yards that game, an FBS record for quarterbacks. Tate took the starting job and never looked back. 

He displayed electrifying speed and playmaking abilities in victories the next three weeks over UCLA, California and Washington State. The season didn’t end how the Wildcats had envisioned, losing to Oregon and rival Arizona State to finish the regular season before losing to Purdue in a tight 38-35 finish in the Foster Farms bowl game. However, Khalil Tate did put his name on the map, raising the expectations for the Wildcats going into the 2018 season. 

After relieving head coach Rich Rodriguez of his duties on January 2nd, 2018, the Wildcats went on a nationwide search for the program’s next head coach. They wound up hiring Kevin Sumlin less than two weeks later, who had previously coached at Texas A&M and the University of Houston. 

The lights were all on quarterback Khalil Tate going into the 2018 season. He landed on the cover of the 2018 College Football Sports Illustrated edition, with a headline that read, “He’s the Nation’s Best QB. (Hand Him The Heisman.)” There was a lot of pressure on Khalil Tate, Kevin Sumlin, and the whole program. 

The season started off slow, losing the first two games of the season against BYU and Houston, leaving for an uphill battle the rest of the season for the team. The Wildcats struggled to get any momentum going all season, trading wins for losses week to week. They found themselves sitting at 3-5, going into a crucial matchup at home against Oregon. 

Khalil Tate and the Wildcats cruised to a 44-15 victory over the Ducks, leading to some hope that Arizona can climb their way into a bowl game. They followed that up with another victory the following week against Colorado and stood at 5-5 overall at that point, needing just one win in the final two weeks to place themselves as bowl eligible. 

The Wildcats were unable to do it. They were blown out by the Washington State Cougars in the second to last game of the season, falling 69-28 in a game you could tell was over from the first quarter. 

That led to a crucial final game against in-state rival Arizona State at home. It was not only a huge game for the rivalry’s sake, but also a must-win to get into a bowl game. Tate and the Wildcats offense were cruising for most of the game, taking a 40-21 lead going into the 4th quarter before everything went wrong for the Wildcats on both sides of the ball. Arizona State wound up scoring 20 unanswered points in the 4th quarter, coming out on top 41-40 in what was a heartbreaking loss for the whole Arizona football team. 

In the offseason there were murmurs of Khalil Tate potentially transferring going into his senior season, as there were reports that he did not like the system Kevin Sumlin was running, but Tate is back as the Wildcats head into year two under Sumlin. 

The season started off on a disappointing note in a 45-38 loss against Hawaii, a game where Khalil Tate came one yard short from sending the game to overtime on a scramble as time expired. There are still a lot of question marks on the defensive side of the ball, specifically in the secondary, but the expectations are still high for Tate going into his final season with the program. The Arizona Wildcats will look to avoid missing a bowl game in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2006-07.

Follow Ari Koslow on Twitter.

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