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Arizona head coach Kevin Sumlin will ‘continue to investigate’ 2-QB system

(Getty Images)

As the old saying goes, if you have two quarterbacks, then you don’t have any.

But that didn’t stop Arizona Wildcats head coach Kevin Sumlin from giving the two-quarterback system a try in Saturday’s 41-31 loss to the Stanford Cardinal.

It was a back-and-forth affair that saw both quarterbacks Khalil Tate and freshman Grant Gunnell platoon as signal-callers.

“It was a changeup and a lot of things that kept us in the game, so that’s something we’re going to continue to investigate but obviously both of those guys are capable of being successful,” Sumlin said at his press conference on Monday.

“How we manage that, everybody is going to second-guess the situation. … I think the important thing is — although we did not win the game — I thought that both of them because of the change of pace and [being able to take] pressure off of a guy, I thought that both of them were effective particularly in the first half.”

Tate would lead Arizona on the opening drive of the game that culminated in a field goal to take an early 3-0 lead.

But both quarterbacks knew that Gunnell would operate the offense on the third series of the game. The freshman would go on to cap off the drive with an eight-yard touchdown pass.

Gunnell only participated in one more series midway through the second half before his night came to an end. Although, Sumlin admitted that there was a discussion of putting Gunnell back in with three minutes left in the game and down by two scores. The freshman finished with a stat line of 7 of 7 for 68 yards and a touchdown.

But it would be all Tate the rest of the way. The senior went 17 of 33 for 205 yards, two scores and one interception. He also rushed for 103 yards, 57 of which came on a touchdown run following Gunnell’s first series of the night.

“They’re two different guys, right?” Sumlin said.

“I think in the first half they showed that they’re two different people in [their approach]. One guy took off for 60-something yards. The other guy was 5-for-5 on a drive in an RPO system. I think that also creates some issues for people to prepare.”

Sumlin isn’t wrong there.

Tate has been in preseason Heisman conversations the last two years after his 2017 season that saw the then-sophomore rush for 1,411 yards for 12 touchdowns and throw for 1,591 yards and 14 scores.

But injuries have plagued the versatile Tate this year, resulting in Gunnell getting a decent amount of reps for a freshman.

It’s no secret that Gunnell does most of his damage through the air, if his -1 rushing yards in five career games is any indication.

In 2019, the freshman is 64 of 96 (66.7%) for 792 yards, 7 touchdowns and just one pick, while Tate is 118 of 189 (62.4%) for 1,528 yards, 12 scores and eight interceptions in seven games.

But with this being Tate’s final season in Tucson, one would assume Gunnell will be Arizona’s starting quarterback for at least the next two years.

And with a 4-4 record and a remaining four-game schedule that includes No. 7 Oregon, No. 9 Utah and Arizona State, perhaps the second-year head coach is already beginning to prepare his future starting quarterback for next season.

“We feel comfortable with both those guys,” Sumlin said. “We’ll work through the week.

“And I think more than anything is our team feels comfortable with both of them because they’ve seen them both operate in pressure situations and on the road and in different areas. That’s going to continue. I kind of like it. I like the competition.”