After more than a year away from the football field and the thrill of SEC competition, Terry Wilson finally suited up again for the Wildcats Saturday afternoon against Auburn. He was rusty after so long away from the game, but he says that’s no excuse.
Despite all of the things the Cats did well (time of possession! total yardage! third down conversions!), the game ultimately came down to a few mistakes. Wilson’s interception in the first half was this close to putting points on the board for Auburn (and it would have, if not for a targeting call against the Tigers). Later, a fourth-quarter fumble meant an Auburn recovery on UK’s 23 yard-line, which quickly resulted in seven points for the home team. No mulligan that time.
Of course, Wilson’s mistakes were not the only ones. There were dropped passes, penalties and even a botched touchdown review that worked in the Tiger’s favor, too. Still, it’s frustrating to see a game that was certainly the “trendy upset” of the week slip away from the Wildcats because of self-inflicted errors.
“There are no warmups,” Coach Mark Stoops said of the 10-game, all-SEC season. “There’s not a team in this league that isn’t going to make mistakes. There are the ones that can make the fewest and have the ability to overcome their mistakes. We certainly made some and need to get them corrected, but I’m very confident we can get them corrected and move on.”
That will certainly be the priority for Terry Wilson, who started strong but committed a few costly errors that Kentucky just couldn’t recover from. Although Wilson completed nearly 65 percent of his passes (24-of-37 for 239 yards in the air), the Cats struggled to actually get in the end zone. UK was one-for-three inside the 20 yard-line, while Auburn scored on three of their four chances from that distance. Wilson threw one touchdown, but he had one interception and one fumble, too.
In preparation for the first game of his comeback season, Wilson spent the past several months rehabbing from his injury, retraining the muscles in his legs and mentally preparing himself to put his body back on the line for his team. Still, there’s only so much one can do in practice. Sometimes, it takes a real game, even if the competition is No. 8 Auburn and the crowd is a rowdy-but-limited 17,500 Auburn students. Like Stoops said, there are no warmups this year.
“There’s a lot to build on there. There’s a lot he can do better. But I think the turnovers were a big piece of it for him, and that’s hard to simulate back in practice,” Stoops said of his starting QB. “I think that’s the critical area where he needs to improve, securing the football in the run game.”
That “critical area” for improvement is no secret. It’s the same aspect of the game Wilson lists as his own weakness, saying there are “no excuses” for the turnovers, regardless of the rust serving as a side effect of more than a year away from real competition.
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) September 26, 2020
“It felt great to be back out there, but it’s tough to win a game when you have turnovers. I have to do a better job of holding onto the ball when I’m running,” Wilson said after the loss. “Being off a year, I haven’t been hit at all. No excuses – I have to be able to hold onto the football.”
“I think he did a lot of positive things, and there’s a lot to build on. Just like most of our guys and all of us, some good and some needs to improve,” Stoops added. “I don’t think there’s any doubt he’ll build on this. He’ll bounce back quickly and be ready to play next week. I thought there [were] a lot of positive things here that he did.”
Wilson will have today off to recover, both physically and mentally. Then, it’s back to work. For him, that’s the good news.
“We’re just looking forward to getting back out there Monday and correcting our mistakes,” Wilson said.
He won’t have long. Lane Kiffin and Ole Miss come to town next Saturday, and they’ll be ready to take advantage of any lingering rust.