LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) – Whether Terry Wilson or Gunnar Hoak starts the season opener at quarterback might not matter for Kentucky. Both will get snaps against Central Michigan.
The competition between the signal callers has been so close in fall camp that a starter won’t emerge until the depth chart is released on Monday. Even then, it might not be settled. Wildcats coach Mark Stoops has previously indicated both will play against Central Michigan on Sept. 1.
Redshirt freshmen Danny Clark and Walker Wood have also shown promise this month, but Stoops’ choice boils down to Wilson, a junior college transfer, and redshirt sophomore Hoak. And he’s willing to take all the time needed to make a decision.
"It doesn’t hurt to have them work on a few more things for a week as well and it is very close," said Stoops, who has been impressed with their poise and decision-making. "We’ll see how it goes.
"We were getting in the habit early on in camp where they were holding the ball too long and getting a false sense of protection and time. As their confidence has grown, they’re getting rid of the ball and being more efficient, knowing where to go, anticipating the windows and getting rid of the football."
Stoops’ ultimate choice must maintain the offensive success established under Stephen Johnson, who went 14-10 the past two years as the primary QB and led Kentucky to consecutive bowl appearances. His pick also must do it quickly and prepare for a tougher test at Florida following on Sept. 8 in the Wildcats’ Southeastern Conference opener.
Right now, Wilson and Hoak are making it a tough decision with effective showings rotating with the first unit.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Wilson has more experience, throwing for 2,133 of his 2,651 yards and 26 of 31 touchdowns last season with Garden City (Kansas) Community College. Determined to learn things quickly after enrolling at Kentucky in January, the Oregon recruit who redshirted in 2016 demonstrated his offensive grasp with tight throws in coverage during Tuesday’s open practice to media. Wilson also made sharp cuts running the ball.
"I’m really comfortable," the sophomore said on media day, the only time quarterbacks have been available to media this month.
"I’ve been in the film room a lot, just watching my mistakes from the spring and I’m ready to just get out here and ball. I’ve just got to do what I do."
Hoak, 6-4 and 206 pounds, is very familiar with coordinator Eddie Gran’s offense and eager to show his mastery under center. Like Wilson, he connected on small windows and showed impressive arm strength on downfield throws.
Both quarterbacks’ ability to take shots downfield is important for a passing game looking to spread things out after ranking 11th of 14 SEC schools in yardage last season at 188.15 per game. Gran has certainly challenged his pupils to let it fly and learn from their mistakes.
"You have to do that to keep people honest," he said of stretch plays while noting their growth in certain situations. "You can never be great at it unless you take those shots and understand where that threshold is. Some of them might be bad throws, some of them might be interceptions. Because of that, we’ve actually gotten better throwing the ball downfield because now they know where to pull the trigger and where not to."
Kentucky’s quarterbacks have followed the same learning curve as it young receivers corps. They’ve also been helped by huge, seasoned offensive line and options such as junior receiver Tavin Richardson (371 yards receiving) and senior tight end C.J. Conrad (286 yards, four touchdowns in 2017).
Hoak and Wilson each look forward to turning it into yards and points. Judging from their interaction in practice it doesn’t matter who gets the nod.
"I’ll do whatever the coaches ask me to do," Hoak said. "If Terry’s the starter, I’m all in."
Said Wilson: "Whatever the coach thinks best, that’s what we’ll go with. When you get in the game, it’s all go."
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