Kevin Sumlin‘s newest coaching job, this time as the head football coach for the University of Arizona Wildcats, can be compared to a guy walking across a frozen lake in early winter. He holds his breath with each step, hoping he doesn’t fall through a patch of ice that hasn’t fully frozen.
For that guy, the result is a cold bath. For Sumlin, it would be more devastating. Each step can be compared to the plays in a game – any one of which can result in the loss of the entire 2018 football season.
Sumlin, who took over the Wildcat program last January, inherited a one-of-a-kind quarterback who is in the Heisman Trophy conversation even before the season begins. Kahlil Tate took over the reins of the offense in the fifth game of last season and went on to put up video game-like numbers that earned him four consecutive Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors, becoming the first player to accomplish that feat. His 327 rushing yards in his debut against Colorado set a new FBS record for quarterbacks.
That’s the good news. But just over Tate’s shoulder is the bad news…
There are six other quarterbacks standing in line behind him. But none are ready to step into his place should he suffer an injury that would sideline him for any length of time. That line of succession includes two returning signal-callers, only one of whom has very limited game experience; a couple of scholarship freshmen; and two walk-ons.
Here’s the scary part… only one of those six has taken a snap in a college game. And he’s a sophomore.
That would be Rhett Rodriguez. The former standout at Tucson’s Catalina Foothills High School got into two games last season. His stat sheet from those two games shows one completed pass.
That’s it. That’s what Sumlin has waiting in the wings, should Tate go down.
To use a circus analogy, Tate is working without a net.
Rodriguez should probably be given some extra credit for just hanging in there after his father was drummed out of the program following the 2017 season. Rich Rodriguez was fired after six seasons following allegations of workplace misconduct that included charges of sexual harassment.
Rich offered Rhett a scholarship after the dual-threat quarterback’s junior season in which he passed for 2,503 yards and 20 touchdowns. Now dad is gone, replaced by a stranger, and yet Rhett finds himself battling for the No. 2 spot. He wasn’t considered an impact player by any stretch coming out of high school, and Arizona already had a boatload of quarterbacks. All that’s changed now.
The other returning player at that position sat out a redshirt season last year as a freshman. They didn’t need him then, but he’s going to get a really good look this season.
K’Hari Lane appears to be holding down the position next in line behind Tate, based on the snaps he took during spring practice as Tate’s back-up. The 6’1″, 220-pounder from Georgia came to campus with an impressive resume. He set a state record for touchdown passes and threw for 3,740 yards and 56 touchdowns as a senior.
But taking notes on the sideline was the closest he came to on-field experience last year.
And he and Rodriguez are in the midst of a serious challenge to be the No. 2 on the depth chart when the season opens Sept. 1 against BYU. Jamarye Joiner and Kevin Doyle, the incoming freshmen, have the talent to push for the lead back-up position.
Joiner, a local boy from Cienega High School in Tucson, had been committed to the program long before Sumlin took over. Doyle, who was scooped up by Sumlin and his staff after they took over the program, is from Washington, D.C. Both were rated as 3-star prospects.
Another local product is included in the pair of walk-ons that have signed on for a long-shot effort at getting some playing time. Luke Ashworth is from Arcadia High School in Phoenix, a 2018 graduate. Andrew Tovar, the other walk-on, was given a redshirt season after graduating in 2017 from Cathedral High School in South El Monte, Calif.
Rich Rodriguez made it a practice to be well-stocked at the quarterback position, generally carrying at least half a dozen into the season. During his six years in Tucson, he found some really good ones in the pile.
Sumlin didn’t have to go through that process. His quarterback was already waiting for him when he hit campus.
However, should something happen to Tate, quantity won’t mean a thing. He’ll just have to hope there’s someone in that crowd of inexperienced back-ups that can become a quick learner.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)