By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops admitted during his weekly press conference that UK’s passing game had a “lot of areas” to address before it plays at Missouri Saturday.
Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson completed just three passes for 18 yards in last week’s 14-7 win over Vanderbilt. Stoops partially blamed himself for UK’s inept passing game.
“It starts with us and coaching and what we’re doing, the position we’re putting them in to be successful. Also, getting the quarterback to pull the pin and make accurate throws, and to trust himself. He has done that this year. He has been successful,” Stoops said. “He’s put us in a position to get to the spot we’re in right now.
“But, he’s also not played his best the past couple games. We have to look at that. That’s all of our responsibility; it always is, starting with the coaching staff. Certainly Terry will take his part, on down to protection, the receivers and so on. We’re always in this together. It’s never any one person’s fault, but certainly we need to play better at that position.”
That was fair but certainly stopped short of suggesting that backup Gunnar Hoak might get to play at Missouri if Wilson continues to struggle with the passing game. Remember, Kentucky is 6-1 and Wilson is 78 of 122 passing (63.9 percent) for 721 yards and four scores with five interceptions.
Stoops said he would look at “all options” in practice this week but that Wilson was the starting quarterback.
“We certainly need to look at the other guys and see if they could get an opportunity to get in there and play and help us. We’ll have a plan, and we’ll work Gunnar pretty extensively this week and have him ready to play as well,” Stoops said.
I’m told Kentucky had the same plan the previous two weeks after a loss at Texas A&M when the offense sputtered. Hoak even get reps with the first team and was told to be ready. But he didn’t play against Vanderbilt even though UK now has scored just three times in its last 29 possessions in the last 10 quarters.
During his weekly radio show Monday night, Stoops changed his tune a bit. He said would give “other guys an opportunity” at quarterback.
“We’re going to work them hard and we have the past couple weeks in practice and I anticipate playing several quarterbacks this week,” Stoops said.
Several? Does that mean redshirt freshman Danny Clark might play along with Hoak, a redshirt sophomore, and Wilson?
“We have a lot of confidence in Terry, but we have a lot of confidence in Gunnar and Danny and would love the opportunity to see them play as well,” Stoops said.
Stoops left himself little wiggle room when he told show host Tom Leach that he taught Kentucky “definitely” will play three quarterbacks.
“We’ll see how it goes. Those guys know that. They’re going to prepare to get reps, all three of them,” Stoops said.
Then the coach did give himself some wiggle room for Saturday’s game that Kentucky needs to win to continue its quest to win the SEC East.
“We’ll see how the week goes and the game goes,” Stoops said.
Wilson has seemed hesitant to throw the ball in recent games, a tendency he didn’t have earlier in the season. Stoops didn’t deny that had been a problem.
“There were times where he could’ve thrown the ball and didn’t (against Vanderbilt) and so that’s where that needs to be fixed and so that I can’t defend,” Stoops said at his press conference. “What we do and who we are and our identity and how we win football games is going to be up to us and what we decide is best to put us in a situation to win. But also, there is an obligation to play the game and to run the plays that are there and so there were some opportunities that we didn’t throw that ball that we need to get fixed but we will.
“Terry has played winning football for us. He’s put us in a position to win a lot of games and we greatly appreciate that.”
However, Stoops followed that with this statement to remember and one that I think many UK fans will accept eagerly.
“I also owe an obligation to the rest of our team to put us in a position to win and so you have to have other guys ready to go,” Stoops said.
I understand loyalty to a quarterback. Successful coaches have to have that. But successful coaches also have to know when a change might be needed and not be afraid to make it. If a receiver or safety wasn’t doing what was needed, a change would be made. If an offensive or defensive lineman wasn’t doing his part, he would be replaced.
Kentucky has a chance to have a special season. There won’t be do-overs for C.J. Conrad, Josh Allen, Mike Edwards and others, including Benny Snell unless I miss my guess. If that means going to a second quarterback if needed, then so be it.
Or if just talking about a change lights a fire under Wilson and gets him back playing like he did earlier, that’s great for UK, too.
It’s about the team and going forward UK just can’t win the games it wants to win with 18 passing yards no matter how big a running threat Wilson is.