On Saturday, Terry Wilson will make his debut as Kentucky’s starting quarterback. How have other Wildcat quarterbacks fared in their first starts? Let’s take a look, starting with Stephen Johnson and going back all the way to Tim Couch.
First Start: 9/24/2016, 17-10 win vs. South Carolina (11-19, 135 yards, 1 INT)
Johnson made his debut in the third quarter of Kentucky’s 45-7 loss at Florida and took over for an injured Drew Barker on the second offensive series vs. New Mexico State a week later, finishing the game 17-22 for 310 yards passing and three touchdowns. In his first game as starting quarterback, he led the Cats to a 17-10 win over South Carolina. His stats from that game may not have been that impressive, but Johnson asserted himself as an effective game manager, allowing Boom Williams and Benny Snell to run the show.
First Start: 11/21/2015, 58-10 win vs. Charlotte (16-29, 129 yards passing)
Barker started Kentucky’s final two games of the 2015 season as a redshirt freshman and entered the 2016 season as the starting quarterback. In the first half of Kentucky’s 2016 opener vs. Southern Miss, he showed incredible promise, throwing for 287 yards and four touchdowns, but unraveled in the second half. A back injury forced him to miss the final nine games and eventually retire from football.
First Start: 8/30/2014, 59-14 win over UT Martin (20-29, 377 yards, 1 TD)
Few players have had a more impressive first drive than Patrick Towels. Towles came into Kentucky’s game at Mississippi State on October 6, 2012 and completed 5-5 passes for 71 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown pass:
Towles redshirted his second year and entered the 2014 season as the starter, putting up 377 yards and a touchdown in Kentucky’s 59-14 season-opening win over UT Martin.
First Start: 10/6/2012, 27-14 loss to Mississippi State (10-21, 73 yards passing; 8 rushes for 26 yards, 1 TD)
Whitlow started seven games as a true freshmen in 2012. His first start was against Mississippi State, but his most impressive performance came in the final game of the 2012 season, when he threw for 225 yards and a touchdown in a losing effort at Tennessee. He started eight games in Mark Stoops’ first season in 2013 but eventually transferred to Eastern Illinois.
Only Game as Quarterback: 11/26/2011, 10-7 win over Tennessee (4/6, 15 yards passing)
In a move that only Drew Franklin and a select few saw coming, wide receiver Matt Roark filled in for injured quarterbacks Maxwell Smith and Morgan Newton vs. Tennessee, leading Kentucky to a 10-7 win, the program’s first over the Vols since 1984. Show me a player who’s accomplished more in only six attempts.
First Start: 11/5/2011, 30-13 win over Ole Miss (19-36, 283 yards passing, 2 TD)
In Maxwell Smith’s first start, he led Kentucky to a come-from-behind win over Ole Miss with 283 yards and two touchdowns, which earned him SEC Freshman of the Week honors.
Ankle and shoulder injuries hampered Smith in his sophomore and junior seasons. He transferred to San Diego State for his senior year, where he set the Aztec record for most games without an interception (10) before tearing his ACL. Smith is back at Kentucky working as a graduate assistant.
First Start: 10/17/2009, 21-14 win at Auburn (5-13, 39 yards passing)
Newton’s first start resulted in Kentucky’s first win over Auburn since 1966, but the credit really should go to Randall Cobb and Will Fidler, who replaced Newton in the second half.
First Start at Quarterback: 11/1/2008, 14-13 win at Mississippi State (7/13, 56 yards passing, 1 TD, 1 INT; 12 rushes for 31 yards, 1 TD; 3 receptions for 33 yards)
Two games into his college career, Cobb came in to relieve Mike Hartline and ended up scoring three touchdowns to lead Kentucky over Norfolk State 38-3, a sign of things to come. An ankle injury held Cobb out for a few games, but he got his first start at quarterback at Mississippi State on November 1, 2008. He played a multitude of roles during his three years at Kentucky, but nothing was more exciting than when he lined up in the “WildCobb” formation.
First Start: 8/28/2008, 27-2 win at Louisville (16-31, 147 yards passing)
Hartline won the starting job by default after Curtis Pulley was dismissed for a violation of team rules less then a month before the season opener vs. Louisville. His numbers weren’t spectacular, but he led the Cats to the win; in fact, he’s the only Kentucky quarterback to beat Louisville three times.
First Start: 11/26/2005, 27-8 loss to Tennessee (22-32, 149 yards, 0 TD, 3 INT)
The 2004 Kentucky Mr. Football came to Lexington with high expectations, but ultimately, failed to live up to them. After starting the final game of the 2005 season, Pulley held the starting job through spring camp, but was beat out by Andre Woodson in the fall. He was dismissed from Kentucky in August 2008 as a result of marijuana and traffic charges.
First Start: 10/23/2004, 42-10 loss at Auburn (14-26, 73 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT)
Woodson’s first start came against an Auburn team that eventually went undefeated. He started most of the 2005 season before losing the job to Curtis Pulley, but won it back to start the 2006 season. From there, he became part of Kentucky football lore, leading the Cats to back-to-back 8-5 seasons.
First Start: 9/8/2001, 28-20 win over Ball State (15-22, 215 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT)
Boyd got the starting nod over Jared Lorenzen in the second game of the 2001 season and played well, but lost the starting job four games later.
First Start: 9/2/2000, loss at Louisville (22-34, 322 yards passing, 3 TD, 3 INT; 7 rushes for 38 yards, 1 TD)
After redshirting his freshman year, Lorenzen was named the starter over Dusty Bonner heading into the 2000 season. He threw for over 300 yards in his debut and even though Kentucky lost that game to Louisville, it was clear that Jared was going to put up huge numbers. Despite playing for three coaches, he set school records for total offense, passing yards, and passing touchdowns before heading to the NFL.
First Start: 9/4/1999, 56-28 loss to Louisville (34-62, 446 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT)
After serving as backup to the Tim Couch, Dusty Bonner was named the starting quarterback heading into the 1999 season, during which he led the SEC in six offensive categories, including pass efficiency, total offense, and passing yards per game. After losing his job to Jared Lorenzen the following year, Bonner transferred to Valdosta State.
First Start: 9/28/1996, 65-0 loss at Florida (6-18, 13 yards, 1 INT)
Bill Curry threw Couch into the fire, aka The Swamp, for his first start vs. top-ranked Florida. Couch struggled so badly he was pulled for Billy Jack Haskins halfway through the game. He split time with Haskins throughout that season, but when Bill Curry was fired and Hal Mumme was hired, broke out in a big way in 1997. I refuse to subject you to footage of his actual first start, so let’s relive the 1997 game vs. Louisville, when he threw for almost 400 yards and four touchdowns.