By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
It’s an interesting dilemma for the UK football coaching staff, but somehow they’ve got to figure out how to make it work. Make what work, you ask? Player development at the quarterback position.
Their goal of course is to win every game they possibly can. That means keeping the best players they have on the field as much as possible. But they also have to develop younger players to step in for a least a few plays each game — and sometimes for a half or the entire game — to give the starters a rest and to develop those players for future starting roles on the offense or defense. Except in the case of the quarterbacks.
And therein lies the rub.
With the recent announcement that third string quarterback Danny Clark will transfer to a new school next year, the quarterback position once again next season could become that position that has every fan holding its breath every time the quarterback takes a hit.
It would appear likely that Gunnar Hoak — who is on schedule to graduate in the spring — could also transfer to another school in hopes of getting a better opportunity to play. If he did he would have two years of eligibility left as a graduate player and would not have to sit out the mandatory one year for transfers.
That scenario would leave UK with redshirt junior Terry Wilson as the starter, redshirt freshman Walker Wood as the backup and two newcomers in true freshman Nick Scalzo – who is rehabilitating a knee injury and most likely will redshirt as a freshman in 2019 — and true freshman Amani Gilmore.
That doesn’t seem to be a comforting scenario to be tasked with playing an entire SEC season with one experienced quarterback and yet it seems to continue to happen at UK. Beginning with the transfer of redshirt junior Maxwell Smith in 2015 to redshirt junior Patrick Towles and redshirt freshman Reese Phillips in 2016 and senior Drew Barker deciding to transfer and then giving up on football all together in 2018 there has been a revolving door at the quarterback position at UK.
During the middle of this season after the Vanderbilt game Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said that he wanted to get Gunnar Hoak prepared to step in and play if need be. Stoops said, “We’ll have a plan and we’ll work Gunnar pretty extensively this week and have him ready to play as well.” Unfortunately it didn’t happen. Gunnar was inserted in a couple of games for a few plays but not enough to develop any meaningful experience and in the few plays he was in the game he did not look prepared to play.
Stoops also said that he wanted to get redshirt freshman Danny Clark in the games as well. Clark was a former Ohio State commit who changed his mind as a high school senior and signed with UK. He never really received an opportunity to show what he could do. Stoops said about Clark, “you got a big, strong guy back there where you can do some Q run game but he also has a very live arm. He can throw the football. You could build a little package here and there off of that.” That’s sounds very similar to what Georgia is doing with quarterback Justin Fields and what Alabama did with Jalen Hurts. But it never happened at UK. And now we see another transfer by another Wildcat quarterback and that’s not a good thing for UK Football.
Recent events in this year’s SEC Championship game and last year’s National Championship game have shown that sometimes it’s necessary to have more than one experienced, capable quarterback to play effectively in college football. Georgia has done it, Alabama has done it. They both won their divisions and played in the SEC title game. There is no reason why Kentucky coaches can’t do it.
In fact Mark Stoops said after the Vanderbilt game, “I owe an obligation to the rest of our team to put us in a position to win games so you have to have other guys ready to play.”
But it hasn’t happened yet. It didn’t happen in 2016 or 2017, and it hasn’t happened this year. Until it does, this Kentucky football program will struggle to win games if the starting quarterback goes down with an injury.