Luckett: The battle for QB1
The spring practice session for the UK football program is officially over and next up is a long summer before training camp begins in August. As Mark Stoops sets to begin his sixth season in Lexington, he has a roster that has a ton of seniors starter and the best depth this program has had across the board in quite some time.
The million dollar question question to answer in the next four months is who will become QB1 for the team when they hit up Kroger Field to take on Central Michigan on Labor Day Saturday. There are two sophomores vying for the spot and they both flashed their arsenal of skills for the 36,090 members of the Big Blue Nation who attended the spring game.
There were pluses and minuses from both as we now have some evidence on what a potential offense may look like from UK after watching them. We all know how Eddie Gran likes to call plays and the identity Mark Stoops wants his offense to have. This is going to be a long competition but here we’ll go through the ins and outs of each as UK looks for their future behind center.
When you take a peek at the box score from yesterday’s scrimmage, it’s pretty ugly. As a duo, both Hoak and Wilson combined for less than a 50% completion rate and a 5.1 yards per attempt average. Those numbers aren’t going to win you very many games and it shows that UK was unable to connect on big plays through the air.
It’s important to remember that UK was without their potentially top two targets (Dorian Baker and C.J. Conrad) due to injuries. The top pass catchers in the game were all sophomores who barely played last season and leading returning receiver Tavin Richardson was hardly used except for two grabs to begin the second half.
It wasn’t surprising to see some miscommunication issues as numerous times we saw Hoak throw to an area where there was no wideout in sight. When the team’s top guys get in there these numbers will improve. However, if UK isn’t completing at least 60% of their passes it will be essential to find explosive plays through the air. This was something that was obviously missing from the offense last season.
Gunnar Hoak received the start as he was the first quarterback to run with the ones. The Ohio native struggled early as he seemed to be pretty tense but eventually settled in and played well in the second half. The 6'4 pocket passer has a very quick release to go with underrated athleticism and it’s easy to see why Shannon Dawson thought he would be an excellent fit for an Air Raid offense.
Once the former three-star recruit found his sea legs, you saw his ability to be able to make throws on the move. He does a very good job being accurate on the move. Hoak was successful with pump fakes and the only touchdown toss of the day came as a result of a masterful pump in the red zone.
He’ll need to prove that he can consistently throw the ball vertically down the field and he showed that in the first half when he tossed a beautiful ball on a go-route that Zy’aire Hughes was unable to reel in.
Terry Wilson led the first touchdown drive of the day as he was very effective attacking the middle of the field. The former Oregon quarterback appears to be very comfortable throwing the ball up the seam and his check downs in the intermediate areas appear to be mostly on target. The routes up the hashes could be lethal with C.J. Conrad as the target.
Wilson also showed the ability to toss the ball on the move as the best pass of the day came with him rolling right. The only interception also happened with him on the roll but it was a very catchable ball that hit right off of the hands of reserve fullback/tight end Drew Schlegel. He flashed the ability to throw it deep like we saw on his junior college tape so the potential to bring the splash plays is there.
Coming out of high school, Hoak was scouted as a very accurate passer and appeared to struggle with that early. On the first third down of the game, UK ran a jailbreak screen for Lynn Bowden and Hoak threw it about 12-feet in the air. This must get better as the redshirt sophomore needs to be precise on intermediate routes to help this offense move the chains.
A little bit surprisingly, Hoak threw a few balls into some tight windows and had a couple passes that should’ve been intercepted. Those things do tend to happen but Hoak flashed a gunslinger mentality that could potentially get him in trouble. If he wins this competition, ball security and not playmaking will be his biggest assignment in each outing.
Coming over from the junior college ranks, decision making was a big question when looking at Terry Wilson as a prospect and he showed that he has a ways to go in that regard. There were occasions when Wilson looked to make the big play instead of taking the easy checkdown and that is something that staff will have to work on. Finding that balance on when to play it safe and roll the dice will be something that Wilson must figure out.
Wilson struggle with his accuracy in the intermediate game when having to go outside the numbers. On multiple hitch routes (also known as a curl), Wilson was way off on what should be easy completions. He also missed badly on a swing pass to A.J. Rose on a third down. These are throws that Wilson seemed to not have much confidence in and will be something to focus on this summer.
In this competition, the player who is able to make the most explosive plays is likely to have the upperhand. Eddie Gran has mentioned multiple times this spring that the offense must find a way to make more splashes and this will be a focal point as the offseason rolls on.
As most expected, Wilson has the most potential in this regard as he has the athleticism to be a major factor on the ground as well as having the arm talent to stretch the field vertically. Wilson’s ability to keep the ball off RPO actions will present a unique challenge to opposing defenses and gives the offense greater chances to come up with big plays.
For Hoak, he’s going to have to be able to stretch the ball vertically down the field as he must be able to connect on vertical routes as he won’t bring near the running threat to the offense. We saw one nice ball on a go-route but after that we are not sure if he can consistently keep secondaries honesty.
Hoak’s decision making will also be key as the coaching staff must decide would they rather have a game manager that leans on defense and running game or a dual-threat guy that could produce a home run at any time.My money is on the big play ability.
As we enter the summer, I think it’s the assumption that Wilson currently has the lead for the starting. Even the announcing team of Taylor Zarzour and Cole Cubelic seemed surprised to see Gunnar Hoak receive the start as they had a prepared statement ready for Terry Wilson.
At this point, Wilson just brings more to the table while Hoak is still growing as a pocket passer who is still adjusting to reading live defenses at the FBS level. UK’s offensive identity has been established as a team that loves 11 (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers and 12 (one running back, two tight ends, two receivers) personnel. Behind a big, experienced offensive line that excels in run blocking, Benny Snell figures to run wild as a junior. Therefore, Gran will be looking for a complimentary piece that can produce big plays and Wilson figures to bring that with his dual-threat ability.
Hoak seems to be a better well rounded passer and UK is going to need him. In a two-minute drill, he could be a much better option and when going against the nation’s best run defenses, he could emerge as a the team’s best quarterback on that particular Saturday.
As we sit in the middle of April, I think you’d have to place Wilson as the favorite to be the starter on opening day. With that said, I fully expect to see Hoak receive multiple snaps in the first few games of the season as the coaches figure out exactly the specific type of offense they want to be.
For the first time since 2013, I believe you’ll see Kentucky play multiple quarterbacks for most of the season.