Earlier this week, Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker announced his transfer from the school, sparking much controversy about the upcoming quarterback competition expected this spring. The coaching staff has always been high on Barker, and many expected the junior Wildcat to take the reigns over from Stephen Johnson, even with the addition of Terry “Touchdown” Wilson.
After Barker’s big decision, the competition got a bit more interesting. Is the coaching staff willing to hand over the offense to a brand new quarterback with only one offseason to get acclimated to the system? Or will they go with the “sure” thing in Gunnar Hoak? Will Danny Clark or Walker Wood be ready to compete for the spot?
Let’s take a look at the candidates.
After Barker left, four-star QB signee Terry Wilson was the “sexy” pick to take over the Wildcat offense. The UK coaching staff released a collective sigh of relief following his commitment to Kentucky over several prestigious schools, and his statistics and film from junior college prove why. Considered the No. 1 JUCO quarterback in the nation and the No. 5 overall prospect, Wilson has a powerful arm and an elite rushing presence on the ground to make an instant impact on the offense.
Wilson is a dynamic athlete, and adding him on the field with Lynn Bowden, Benny Snell, Tavin Richardson, CJ Conrad, Dorian Baker, etc., is a terrifying thought for opposing defenses. Due to some lingering injuries, the offense seemed to slow down to end the season, especially in the passing department. Eddie Gran’s system was forced to become one-dimensional, with Snell receiving the bulk of the workload. While the Kentucky running back exploded onto the national stage and cemented himself as one of the top backs in the SEC, the ability for home run opportunities took a dive.
With Terry Touchdown in fold, along with several key pieces returning and players getting healthy, the offense has the ability to get back up to speed and produce in a massive way. Wilson has struggled with accuracy issues in high school and JUCO last season, but several reports indicate he has worked out some of those kinks. He will be reporting to campus this week, so working with Gran and Darin Hinshaw these extra few months will be a tremendous advantage for him.
Stephen Johnson’s ability to escape the pocket and make plays on his feet won several key games for the Wildcats this season. Wilson is expected to be even more of a weapon on the ground, and due to similar play-style to Johnson, there won’t be much of an adjustment period for the offense to work him into the system.
The more playmakers you have on the field at one time, the better the opportunity for plays to be made, right?
Though everyone is jumping on the Terry Touchdown train, Kentucky redshirt sophomore Gunnar Hoak will have a solid shot at the starting job this spring.
Mark Stoops raved on KSR this morning about Hoak’s ability shown in practice and in last year’s Spring Game, and how people in the media are discounting his opportunity to win the job.
He finished a combined 16 of 24 passing for 174 yards and two touchdowns to go with 17 yards and another touchdown on the ground in the 2017 Spring Game. He showed unbelievable poise in the pocket, rarely off the mark on his throws even under pressure. Darin Hinshaw said this season the Wildcats had three SEC-caliber quarterbacks to choose from, and each of them gave Kentucky a major chance to win football games.
With another year of practice fine-tuning his craft, he provides the most “sure” thing from an accuracy standpoint for the Cats this season.
Stoops mentioned this morning on the radio show that the Wildcats were just “fractions off” on several key plays this year, which eventually led to crushing losses for the team. With Hoak being known for accuracy and precision, could this play a major factor in the decision?
If Hoak earns the job, Benny Snell will still be the focal point of the offense, but the staff will be much more confident utilizing the passing game. Hoak is an efficient, stable force under center, and he is ready to compete at any given moment. Similar to Stephen Johnson, the redshirt sophomore will not fold under pressure and provide the Cats great opportunities for victory in all environments.
Terry Wilson may provide more highlight-worthy plays, but Hoak is no slouch at putting points on the board and leading the team to victory.
Danny Clark/Walker Wood
It’s no secret Clark and Wood will likely be the No. 3 and No. 4 quarterbacks on the depth chart next season, and that’s not a bad thing at all.
Sources within the program say Clark had a rough start at Kentucky in practice, specifically with accuracy issues, but he has taken a turn for the better in the latter half of the year. The arm strength has always been there, and with consistent accuracy, Clark is expected to be a major weapon on offense in the future. Nonetheless, he’s still a work in progress, and we likely won’t see him take any major snaps this season for the Wildcats.
Wood has always been seen as a project quarterback for Kentucky, especially following his major knee injury suffered last December. His athleticism is tremendous, but arm strength and decision making continue to be an issue for the redshirt freshman. Stoops says he has not been able to compete in practice at 100% quite yet due to setbacks in rehab, so we’ll have to wait for further updates when Wood is ready to go.
With Hoak and Wilson seen as “immediate” impact guys, having Clark and Wood building their skillset and fine-tuning their games in practice throughout the year will be beneficial for the program in future years.
Bonus: Lynn Bowden
As weird as it sounds, Bowden is technically Kentucky’s leading passer going into the 2018 football season. This year, the star freshman finished three for four through the air for 92 yards and one interception, along with impressive statistics receiving, rushing, and in kick return situations. With another offseason to learn the offense and build plays around his skillset, be prepared for more dynamic production out of the Kentucky receiver.
The coaching staff is extremely high on Bowden and feel he adds a new dimension to the offense and a lot of points on the scoreboard. He won’t be a primary quarterback option, but he will have a wide range of play packages designed for him out of the backfield. Mark Stoops told KSR they already felt comfortable with him lined up at quarterback with Benny Snell in the backfield, with several plays drawn up with options to hand the ball off, take it on his own, or find the open man through the air.
Stoops said that the foundation is already there for more success from that position with Bowden, and that they’d spend this offseason building off of that.
Could we see a situation where both Hoak and Wilson earn reps and make an impact this season? How much more will Bowden be included in the passing game? Will either Clark or Wood surprise folks and make a big step up this offseason?
Though no one is certain, what we do know is the quarterback position will certainly be interesting to follow this season.