Gunnar Hoak (Vicky Graff Photo)
By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
There’s been a lot of talk recently from UK coach Mark Stoops, several players and the media about who will be UK starting quarterback on Sept. 1st when Kentucky meets Central Michigan in the season opener at Kroger Field.
There are several capable candidates for the job. Currently Gunnar Hoak, Terry Wilson Jr. and Danny Clark are leading the pack but don’t completely forget about Walker Wood. With Stephen Johnson’s graduation and Drew Barker foregoing his last year of eligibility due to medical reasons the door is wide open for one of the aforementioned guys to walk through and claim the job.
To me it should be an easier decision for Mark Stoops and Eddie Gran than most people believe. Here are three reasons why.
1. Quarterback Accuracy. Eddie Gran has stated publicly that he would like to get this year’s quarterback pass completion percentage up to the 65 to 70% percent level. In looking at the two leading candidates – Gunnar Hoak and Terry Wilson, Jr – it appears from what we know that only one of those candidates can probably hit that percentage come September. Terry Wilson, Jr completed only 58% of his passes in junior college with 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Those numbers won’t fly in the SEC. Especially on a team that will be depending on it’s offense to control the ball and control the game. The Wildcats have to be better in the passing game if they are going to reach the 7 or 8 win mark in 2018.
Conversely Gunnar Hoak was 16 for 24 in the spring game with 2 touchdowns. Those are the only statistics we have to go on because he didn’t play a down in his redshirt freshman season but we know from practice reports that he is a very accurate passer. Benny Snell, Jr recently said that Hoak was extremely accurate, that he could “put the ball anywhere he wants to”. Mark Stoops said about Hoak, “He’s poised. He is accurate. He knows where to go with the football. He can make all the throws. I like what Gunnar’s doing. I look forward to watching him this summer.”
2. Knowledge of the System. Another reason Hoak will be the starting quarterback in September is that he has been in the program for two years. He is a proven commodity to the coaches. They see him every day in practice. He knows what they are trying to run and how they want him to run it. As good as Terry Wilson, Jr is athletically – and based on the glimpses we have seen so far he is excellent – he hasn’t been around the UK system very long. A few months exposure is not enough time to fully grasp what Eddie Gran is asking his quarterback to do. When the bullets start to fly – especially early in the season – the coaches will want a player that knows what they are expecting and will stick with a disciplined approach and not rely completely on instinct.
They need a game manager. I know that is an unpopular term with fans and players alike but it’s exactly what UK needs to challenge the Georgias and Floridas of the SEC world. This year’s team can’t afford to put the defense into bad field position with turnovers like UK teams have done in the past. Kentucky as a football team is not built to overcome throwing a key interception or a allowing a fumble deep in their own territory.
With all that being said I believe that Terry Wilson, Jr will still have a vital role with this offense. Eddie Gran will come up with a package for Wilson that consists of handoffs and designed quarterback runs out of UK’s Run-Pass Option offense. As the season moves forward and Wilson gets more experience at the college level he will become a more important cog in the offense.
3. Point Guard Mentality. That brings me to my third point. Hoak is the kind of player that can make all the other players around him better. He is Marquis Teague on the 2012 UK National Championship team surrounded by the Anthony Davis’s and Michael Kidd-Gilchrists of the UK Football world. When you have an experienced offensive line that can block and players around you like Benny Snell Jr, CJ Conrad, Dorian Baker and Lynn Bowden, to name a few, all you need to do is get the ball into the right player’s hands at the right time and let the other guys make great plays. A quarterback that is an accurate passer and knows the offense can do just that.
What Mark Stoops said recently about Hoak is exactly what I am talking about. Stoops said, “Gunnar Hoak, he’s been in our system. He hasn’t played a college snap yet. He’s been in our system. He practiced a bunch. He knows what we are doing. He’s poised. He has always been poised since he stepped on campus.” Those statements sum up exactly what this Kentucky team needs from their quarterback this season to be a winner. Knowledge, poise and confidence along with accurate passing.
So when the offense jogs out onto the field for the first time in September don’t be surprised to see No. 12 in blue and white line up behind center and take the first snap. Most football coaches look for the lowest-risk and highest-reward scenario and for the first game of the season Gunnar Hoak is it. But don’t sleep on Terry Wilson, Jr. That guy can play.