Yesterday was a big day for Kentucky football. After weeks of hearing only positive about the defense, we finally got the major step forward we’ve been looking for from the offense. Following their morning scrimmage, Mark Stoops raved about the playmaking all over the field with a slight grin on his face.
“The offense as a whole brought the energy. They were very consistent. That doesn’t mean they were perfect, but they had a really good mentality. When they had bad plays, they overcame it at times. If not, they overcame it the next series.” Stoops added, “They really had a solid week, and it showed today.”
After last weekend’s mess, it was a massive sigh of relief. And it got me wondering about the specifics of the day.
We’re used to reading TJ Walker’s basketball insider notes on Mondays, but how about some football nuggets on this beautiful Sunday afternoon?
After doing some digging over the last week or so and following the big scrimmage yesterday, here’s what I got:
Back in July, I was told the quarterback battle was not all it was cracked up to be. The whole narrative of Terry Wilson being the pure athlete with consistency issues and Gunnar Hoak being “Mr. Efficient” with limited home run ability was a bit far from the truth. In reality, each had serious accuracy flaws throughout the spring, summer and into fall, and neither did enough to separate themselves as “the guy.”
At the time, I was told the coaching staff wasn’t ecstatic about where either of them were, but Wilson likely had a very slight edge over Hoak. Very slight.
In the long term, one source within the program felt (at the time) Wilson may have his ups and downs, but he would do what it takes to eventually win the job. They felt he had the “it” factor.
“I genuinely think it’ll be Terry when we get to Central Michigan,” they said at the time.
When fall camp kicked off, I was told Hoak took a solid step up and actually separated himself from Wilson. The redshirt sophomore developed solid chemistry with the tight ends and slot receivers, improving the Wildcat offense in short and medium passing situations. It allowed Eddie Gran to utilize the running game and move the chains in short-yardage situations. If the first game had been played then, there was little doubt Hoak would be it.
Over the last week, though, Wilson dug his cleats into the ground and inched his way forward. He had finally shaken the rust off he had coming into the program from junior college.
Now, I strongly believe it will be Terry Wilson leading the Kentucky offense onto the field first on September 1.
Yesterday was Wilson’s best practice since he got to Kentucky, and certainly the best scrimmage. He made throws that turned the heads of everyone in attendance.
“It clicked,” one source told KSR. “Something just clicked with him. He looked really, really good out there.”
The offense as a whole was extremely impressive yesterday, and a lot of it had to do with Benny Snell back in the fold. The star running back missed last week due to a minor calf injury, one so small that Snell actually wondered why Stoops brought it up in the first place. It was nothing of substance and is absolutely not a concern going forward.
Snell also mentioned yesterday that he had a costly drop going out for a pass in the scrimmage, which brings me to another important point going into the season. I’m told Eddie Gran is really trying to work all the backs into the passing game to add another dimension to the offense. And it looks really good so far. Between that and the double-tight end sets we’ve mentioned over the past few weeks, I’d expect to see some new schemes the BBN may not be as familiar with when the season opens up. Tight ends CJ Conrad and Justin Rigg (who has really improved at both run and pass blocking) on both sides of the line will keep opposing defenses on their toes.
Beyond that, the chemistry around the total unit is really solid right now. In the past, we’ve seen the locker room gravitate toward one quarterback and it has caused some tension in the past, but I’m told both QB options are well-respected and liked across the board. Players are hyping up their teammates after big plays and lifting their spirits after mistakes. The general vibe is that they know this can be a really special season for them.
I’ve raved about David Bouvier the past couple days and weeks, and the hype train isn’t slowing down anytime soon. He’s going to be a stud this season. Akeem Hayes has also turned heads, as mentioned by Snell yesterday in the post-scrimmage media opportunity. Lynn Bowden, Tavin Richardson, EJ Price, Chris Rodriguez, and Kavosiey Smoke are other players that have looked really solid.
The offense needed to take a step forward, and they made it happen. Fans should be excited about that.
Part of what made the offense look so good was a pretty weak overall performance from the defense. I was told both quarterbacks in contention for the job carved up the opposition, mixing up the play calls and finding success at all three levels of the field. It didn’t confuse the defense, per se, but it certainly frustrated them throughout the scrimmage. Kash Daniel himself admitted the defense just got outplayed on a few instances, using it as motivation going forward. (In other words, I expect a dominant defensive performance to make up for it this week)
Mark Stoops told the media yesterday that the defense is very thin at a few positions, and that was part of the reason they struggled so much on that side of the ball yesterday. I have been told that safety Mike Edwards has been battling a hamstring issue this week that has held him out of practice, though that is not expected to be a lingering issue going forward. There are a few other minor injuries, but other than Josh Paschal, none are of concern to the team.
As far as the overall defense is concerned going into the season compared to where they were on Saturday, I’ve been told that the coaches aren’t sweating the rough day in the slightest. In fact, Stoops and defensive coordinator Matt House are extremely confident in their group and believe it will be the best top to bottom since Stoops got to Kentucky. The defensive linemen are athletic and more aggressive, the defensive backs (when healthy) have improved their ball instincts and coverage, and the linebackers, both inside and out, are creating pressure. The coaching staff knows what they have on defense, the main concern was getting the offense firing on all cylinders. They did just that.
We won’t have a football media session tomorrow, but we’ll have an open media practice on Tuesday to get another inside look at the program. Nick Roush and I will be there to give you all the updates you need on the team with just two weeks before kickoff.