WATCH: Arizona QB Khalil Tate comes up 1 yard short as Hawaii pulls off exciting upset
If No. 8 Florida’s over Miami was a defensive slobberknocker, Arizona-Hawaii was a boat race on a lake made of pure fire. Neither was cleanly played — it’s Week 0, after all — but it’s hard to complain about the excitement in either, including Hawaii’s 45-38 thrilling win over the Wildcats.
That’s because it almost had the most improbable ending of the 2019 season. Yep, even in Week 0, we were ready to call it. Maybe that’s falling victim to being a creature of the moment, but Khalil Tate’s 30-yard run towards pay dirt as time expired was as stunning of an end to a game as there’s been in a while. With 10 seconds remaining, Tate got off one final snap, looked around for an open man downfield before tucking the ball and running. He had open space, too, before being tackled at the 1-yard line to end the game. (As a side note, notice No. 49: Manly Williams. Yes, that’s his name, and he made an incredible effort play to chase down Tate and make the play of the game.)
Frankly, Tate wasn’t even the story for much of the game. That goes to show just how far he’s fallen off the map since his breakout 2017 season. The senior got off to yet slow start, throwing an interception on the first possession of the game. And for the first 15 minutes, it didn’t look like much had changed since last year’s disappointing follow-up. But as the game progressed, shades of old Khalil Tate began appearing. He finished with 108 yards rushing, his most since Nov. 11, 2017, against Oregon State, and hit a signature 57-yard bomb down the field across his body. All of these things were reminiscent of the human highlight reel he was two years ago.
But that final run cemented that, yes, Tate is healthy and back. If he’s used properly, he’ll be one of college football‘s most electric players again. He finished with 361 yards passing, three touchdowns and two picks. At 39 attempts, he’s still throwing more than he should be in this offense, which even in a shootout such as this seems inexcusable against Hawaii. That’s a game plan issue and we’ll get to coach Kevin Sumlin in a minute.
In the meantime, here’s what else we learned from Saturday’s game.
Hawaii’s drive chart belongs in the Smithsonian
The reason why Tate wasn’t the top story for much of the game was because Hawaii was playing perhaps the most uneven game of football in recent memory. The Rainbow Warriors had 14 drives in the game, and scored or turned the ball over on all but one of them. In fact, the first and only time Hawaii brought its punting unit out on to the field was its final possession of the game with just over two minutes remaining. Otherwise, the Rainbow Warrior drive chart looked as follows:
Dear reader, you are seeing that correctly. Hawaii either scored or gave the ball away in 13 straight possessions. Most of those feast-or-famine moments came from quarterback Cole McDonald, who was benched in the third quarter after throwing his fourth pick of the game. As tweeted below by Bryan Fischer, winning a game after giving the ball away six times is rare:
The Rainbow Warriors may have a quarterback battle on their hands
McDonald has developed a bit of a late-night college football lore. He infamously played most of last season through a gruesome injury that resulted in some. And yet, he still threw for more than 3,800 yards and 36 touchdowns. But on Saturday night, McDonald was as uneven as he’s ever been. Yes, he racked up 378 yards through the air and four touchdowns … but most of his four picks were bad decisions or inaccurate throws.
That led to coach Nick Rolovich benching McDonald in favor of Chevan Cordeiro, who was McDonald’s serviceable backup last season. Cordeiro was excellent in leading the Rainbow Warriors on back-to-back scoring drives. He finished with 58 yards passing and a score along with 34 yards on the ground. Moving forward, Cordeiro has proven he at least deserves to be included in the quarterback conversation. McDonald may be the incumbent, but Cordeiro stopped the bleeding when Arizona was mounting a second-half comeback.
Kevin Sumlin deserves to be on the hot seat
I say this as someone who picked Arizona as thecoming into the season (gulp). Some of Sumlin’s coaching decisions or general oversight are troublesome coming off of last season’s 5-7 effort. As mentioned above, Tate still isn’t used as well as he could be. While Tate still put up big numbers, there were situational failures when he was not. The second of his two interceptions came on a 2nd-and-5 at the Hawaii 13-yard line and it was returned 49 yards to midfield. Hawaii scored a decisive touchdown to go up 45-35 four plays later. In red zone situations, why is Sumlin not using his best rushing tool to put stress on Hawaii’s defense? That might be a call that looks bad in hindsight because it didn’t work, but there are plenty of examples like those. Stud running back J.J. Taylor had six carries in the first half.
It wasn’t just the offense that left something to be desired. Arizona’s defense gave up nearly 600 yards of total offense at more than nine yards per clip. For having thrown nearly 50 passes, Hawaii wasn’t sacked once.
And then there’s special teams. The miscues on the Wildcats’ fourth quarter field goal to pull to within a touchdown were mind-boggling. A 38-yard field goal attempt quickly became a 53-yard attempt after Arizona was flagged for a delay of game and back-to-back false starts. Lucas Havrisik still made the kick, but those pre-snap penalties are completely unacceptable. Week 0 can produce a lot of sloppy play, but that was an instant that could have been more devastating for Arizona.
Cedric Byrd was an unstoppable monster
Enough about the things that were bad. Byrd was the best part of this game with a whopping 14 catches for 224 yards and four touchdowns. The Hawaii wideout became the first player int he FBS to score as many touchdowns in his season opener in more than 20 years. He’s going to be a nightmare for opposing defenses for the rest of the season.