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UK Football: A Quarterback Quandry

Terry Wilson (Vicky Graff Photo)

By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer

Mark Stoops sure poked the hornets nest on Monday when he mentioned that he will consider playing multiple quarterbacks in the UK game against Missouri Saturday.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think Terry Wilson has been at the top of his game in the last couple of outings against Texas A&M and Vanderbilt but on the other hand there are a lot of variables that go into how a quarterback performs on the field. In this case there appear to be a combination of things that are limiting Terry Wilson’s ability to perform well.

Let’s take a look at a quarterback comparison to see what those things might be.

If you compare Terry Wilson statistically to the 7-1 LSU’s Joe Burrow, the quarterback of the team the national media analysts seem to love right now, he comes out looking pretty good. Wilson’s completion percentage is at 64 percent while Burrow checks in at a pretty anemic 54 percent. Wilson’s overall quarterback rating is 118 whereas Burrow is at 116. The big difference is passing attempts. Burrow has thrown the ball 223 times to Wilson’s 122. The other big difference is in rushing yards. Terry Wilson has rushed for 395 yards — the second most by a quarterback in the SEC — whereas Joe Burrow has rushed for 250 total yards.

So, based on those statistics it appears that all the problem may not lie with Terry Wilson. He doesn’t control what plays are called. He may check out of a few passing plays in favor of running the ball but generally the offensive coordinator will set the game plan and then make adjustments to that once they see what the opposing defense is doing. It appears in some of the instances where the UK quarterback has underperformed as a passer it’s because the  offensive coordinator has decided to sit on the ball once Kentucky gets a lead and then only throws out of desperation if they get behind or are in an obvious passing situation. None of those scenarios help a quarterback improve his confidence throwing the ball or get them the experience they need to perform in a balanced offense.

With all that being said can Terry Wilson be a better quarterback. Absolutely. But to be successful he needs some help from the coaches. Throwing the short and intermediate ball is not Wilson’s strong suit. The coaches know that. So put him in a situation where he can throw balls he is comfortable with. If it’s the deep ball, then throw the deep ball. Even if he only completes one out of ten it will keep the opposing safeties from creeping up in the box to stop the run and will get one more explosive play per game for the Wildcats. And who knows, they may find out Terry Wilson is pretty good at throwing the deep ball.

But here’s the rub. Throwing the deep ball on first or second down can lead to no yards gained and can put the Kentucky offense behind the chains. For a run-based offense looking at second down and 10 yards to go or third down and nine yards to go that is not the way to be successful. So, in a rushing based offense where risk is not one of the key elements, throwing the ball does not become a popular choice. This coaching staff seems to subscribe to Ohio State’s former Hall of Fame Coach Woody Hayes theory that “when you throw the football only three things can happen, and two of them are bad.” 

At the end of all this discussion it appears that Mark Stoops and Company have a dilemma. Their team is 6-1 and tied for the SEC East lead. They have four very winnable games left on the schedule and a game that they are a definite underdog against Georgia. If they tinker with the system, throw the ball more against Missouri and lose, everyone will say, “What were you thinking? Stick with what got you here.” 

But if they continue to sit on the ball on offense and hope the defense can pitch a shutout each week they run the risk of losing one or two of those very winnable games and likely have no shot against Georgia.

If I were in Mark Stoops shoes — and I’m glad I’m not — I think I would bring in Gunnar Hoak in the second quarter or sooner if the offense struggles in the first quarter or Missouri gets ahead by two touchdowns. If Hoak can’t move the ball through the air consistently while maintaining a significant number of running plays to control the clock then I would fall back on Plan B.

And I’ll explain Plan B Thursday.

9 comments

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  1. I agree that it is not as easy as just changing quarterbacks.

    Nice analysis Keith

    1. Tell that to Nick Saban.

  2. I agree, also. I believe that Gran and his play calling is the biggest part of the problem. Once he gets a lead, he wants to quit and go home; just sit on what you have and don’t try to do very much. That is not winning football against teams that can score.
    I am not sure what Hoak or Clark can do, but I do know that neither Wilson nor Burrows is a quarterback that I would put my hopes on to lead a team to score a lot of points in a shootout.
    What angers me the most, is that Hoak was never given a chance last year, and has not been given much of a chance this year, even when opportunities have been there.

  3. Prepare Hoak, or Clark, but start Wilson Saturday. If Wilson can’t move the football through the air after a few 3 and outs , and Missouri shuts the UK running game down, insert Hoak, or Clark, early to see what he can do. We just may be surprised. It is these coaches who are responsible for developing all these QB’s. That position is the weak link of a very talented football team right now IMO. It is going to catch up with UK if they don’t get the passing game corrected.

    Why is it that UK always struggles at the QB position it seems every year? All I know is UK, I don’t think, win this game if they can’t put points on the board and match Missouri score for score, or shut them down completely with the UK defense.

  4. Wilson problem on the short passes is that he is not throwing the ball, but trying to guide it! He is so tentative that his passes get deflected or knocked down. He needs to relax and put more zing on his short passes. This needs to be accomplished before Saturday.

    1. Yes, and don’t throw it out in the flat behind the LOS.

  5. Wilson seemed to show more awareness and confidence at beginning of the year. You can tell that he isn’t very comfortable when he drops back and seems to focus on only 1 receiver and not able to go thru his progressions. Also, the OL has not given him a lot of protection. If you have good offensive mentoring during all of the practices etc., how is he still not able to complete short passes? Are Gran/Hinshaw really developers of talent? Another problem that has been there for more than just this year is why can’t our receivers get separation?

    1. Mike, he is not a drop back passer. He is a dual threat QB, and he throws from the gun or the pistol formation. The UK OL, for the most part, has given him adequate time, generally Texas A&M collapsed the pocket. You only have about 3 or 4 seconds to get the ball out. That is Wilson’s problem right now IMO.
      A good offense has to have a rhythm to it, and the ball needs to come out many times even before the receiver has made his cut. Receivers have to be on their route, and have the strength to get free off the LOS and run crisp clean routes, especially short routes, hooks, or slants across the middle. They have to help their QB by catching the football, even at times when it is not a perfectly thrown ball. Wilson is holding the ball too long, and there have been drops too, in all fairness. If you are going to throw it, fire it in there before the defender can close. Don’t be afraid of throwing an INT. Don’t be tentative. That is why I am in Hoak’s camp. He gets rid of the ball. Rare back and rip it.

  6. I don’t know if this is Gran’s strategy given what he did at Cincinnati. His offenses threw the ball all over the place. Stoops, on the other hand, loves to run the ball, tire out the DL, and run some more. If the head coach says run it, run it, run it, then you run the ball. Gunner was really effective in his first series against Central Michigan. When he came out after half-time he was throwing the ball too high, and the one that wasn’t too high should have been intercepted. Terry has a passer rating of 120.92 against SEC teams. I like Gunner, He’s a gritty football player. I too am disappointed our passing game hasn’t progressed. I’ve seen Terry make some amazing throws … into tight windows, and leading the receiver open. The coaches really are into everyone’s head about no turnovers. The more you throw the ball the higher the probability there will be a turnover. 50/50 balls are just that and increase the odds of a turnover. QB’s have to play unconscious. When you start having to think about it then small openings disappear. I understand that if our offense stalls at Mizzou then let’s try Gunner for a series, or until he stalls. Terry’s running abilities is a real threat that defenses have to take into account. He’s run for 277 yds and 2 touchdowns against SEC teams. It would be very difficult for me to take our second leading rusher out of a game unless he is just gone to pieces. Mizzou is not known for their pass rush so maybe this will factor into who is throwing the ball. I have no answer. I’m more concerned about our offense than I am about Mizzou. Lock has only had a 85.39 passer rating against SEC teams and has thrown 5 interceptions and only 1 touchdown. The stats are a bit strange, to me anyway. I’ll throw the ball if they show 8 man boxes or a run blitz. Oh, making Mizzou a 6 pt or so favorite is also a bit strange to me. We could beat this team by 3 touchdowns.

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