Kentucky reached the midway point of the 2020 football season and pressed the reset button on its quarterbacks.
Ahead of Saturday’s matchup at Kroger Field with the current owners of the SEC East, Georgia, the Wildcats will explore options at quarterback. There was an “or” listed between Terry Wilson and Joey Gatewood’s names on the depth chart.
“We’ll see how it goes throughout the week,” Mark Stoops said Monday. “Haven’t had the opportunity to meet with those guys with Sunday being a day off. We have our meetings coming up, so we’ll see where everything is after a couple of days.”
Kentucky’s head coach refused to show his hand on exactly what he’s looking for from the quarterbacks or when he will make a decision. Stoops did provide some clues as to how this week’s quarterback competition will unfold. The motivation for the change was simple. Kentucky’s entire offense is not playing well enough.
“There’s a variety of things that we need to do better. I don’t need to point the finger at any one group. Obviously, we all need to accept the responsibility for that and improve on it,” he said.
“I want our unit to play better. I want us to play better across the board. I felt like we didn’t strain like we normally do. That goes for everybody. I don’t feel like we played with the same chip, the same mentality, the same edge that you need to play with each and every week. No matter what you do, who you play, you have to refuel during the week. It’s a challenge but it’s not an excuse.”
The quarterback competition is not limited to just Wilson and Gatewood. Stoops said that true freshman Beau Allen is “in the mix” to earn that starting role. What’s holding Allen back isn’t his play on the field.
“That part of it is tough because all of the quarterbacks need the reps. They need the looks. That’s where it gets — there’s a fine line there with running our receivers into the ground, but also getting the looks for the quarterbacks at game speed. It’s hard getting three quarterbacks looks but he (Allen) has been impressive. I’ve said that from the beginning. He’s a guy that definitely has some great ability, anticipation and can throw the ball. We’ll see where it goes. It’s hard to get three guys ready, but yes he is in the mix.”
The UK offense actually will not have a rep-splitting problem today. Stoops revealed that Wilson will miss today’s practice with a minor injury, giving Gatewood and Allen a head start in this week’s preparation for Georgia.
There’s no simple solution to Kentucky’s passing problem. Of the three quarterbacks, Allen probably is the best aerial option. However, attacking through the air is not the direction Stoops wants his offense to take. By referencing what worked against Missouri, it sounded like Stoops is ready to run the damn ball over and over again this Saturday against Georgia’s fourth-ranked rush defense.
The big-bodied Gatewood might be the ideal quarterback for the difficult challenge that lies ahead if he can master one aspect of Kentucky’s offense. Stoops specifically only mentioned one thing that the quarterbacks must improve: correctly reading the defense in run-pass options.
“All of our quarterbacks aren’t going to be perfect on their run reads, as far as giving it to the back or pulling it. Sometimes there’s some gray (area) there and we’re not always going to be perfect. We understand that. On our run-pass options, we’re very clear on that and we need to be on point with that. That we need to improve on,” Stoops said. “To be able to be effective offensively we have to execute that.”
Even if Eddie Gran can find someone who will make all of the right reads this week, it may not be enough to show offensive improvement against one the nation’s best defenses. Whoever wins this week’s quarterback competition is walking into a buzzsaw when the Georgia Bulldogs come to Kroger Field.