By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today
LEXINGTON — Terry Wilson’s leadership showed in Kentucky’s opener last week, a sign the veteran quarterback has taken a leap forward in his overall game.
The junior quarterback threw for 246 yards, including a 40-yard strike to Ahamd Wagner and two touchdowns against Toledo, but more importantly showed poise and composure, especially in times of adversity.
“I’m encouraged by Terry’s play,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said earlier this week. “When he did miss a couple throws, but he knew right away what he did fundamentally. One of them was a timing, one of them was re-setting his feet, and so he knows it … There’s things that will be, with reps, again, those are easily corrected. And so when you look at it, I was pleased. I thought he really threw some good balls. And the ones he didn’t he can get fixed.”
Wilson threw pass completions to eight difference receivers throughout the contest. Lynn Bowden made six catches for 77 yards, but a surprise target for Wilson was Wagner, who hauled in three catches for 57 yards. Wagner was pleased with the passes thrown by Wilson in the opener.
“I’m always just trying to make a good play,” Wagner said. “Terry (Wilson) is always throwing good passes, so I was just doing what I can to fight through the game. I was excited to get my first catch today. All I had was pass interference (calls) in the past, so I was excited to get my first catch and move on from that.”
Although limited in the past, Wagner’s performance wasn’t a surprise to the Kentucky coaching staff.
“He’s playing and you’re seeing him show up like we had hoped,” Stoops said. “We saw flashes of that during camp and felt like he could be a tough matchup for some people, and he showed up (against Toledo).”
Like his coach Bowden liked the way his teammates played against the Rockets and will be looking for bigger and better things in the future.
“Bryce (Oliver), Ahmad (Wagner), Josh (Ali) and Allen (Dailey) really put in work (in the opener),” Bowden said. “They’ve been going hard in practice since last fall and knew they were going to have big roles this year. Having multiple receivers out there that Terry (Wilson) can throw to makes my time out on the field easier. The defenders just can’t play me double team. It makes them spread the field.”
Despite the impressive performance by the receivers, there were some miscues. The Wildcats fumbled four times and two were lost, including a miscue by the veteran Bowden.
“We just have to be patient,” Bowden said. “We just have to make sure we have good ball security during practice and keep on getting better. It was rough for me a little bit in the beginning. I was just too antsy, and that’s just the first-game jitterbugs. That’s happened with every level I’ve played on.”
Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran wasn’t happy with the two turnovers and lack of third-down conversions. The Wildcats converted just three third downs on 11 chances in the double-digit win over the Rockets.
“The two turnovers are the most frustrating thing as much as we work on taking care of the ball, especially that last one,” Gran said. “At the end of the game, that’s where you want to run out. (On third down), that’s where we had Benny (Snell) last year and get yards after contact. He would get hit three and get four. We get two or three more, which we should have, we would be at 45 or 50 percent. That, and the two turnovers, just sloppy.”
Although sloppy at times, the offensive line did its part and allowed just one sack last week. Protecting Wilson and giving he senior quarterback time to make the right decision was a point of emphasis for Kentucky during preseason workouts.
“That’s something we really stressed over fall camp,” Kentucky offensive line man Landon Young said. “We’ve done a lot of one-on-ones against our defense, and again, we have a really good defensive front — all those guys are pushing us every single day, so that’s been an emphasis on us, getting in there and letting Terry (Wilson) do his work.
“When you give him time and don’t rush him out of the pocket, he can make good throws and I think he really showed that today. He’s got a good arm. He’s got some speed outside and can run the ball, too. But if you give him time, he can definitely throw the ball really well.”
Game tracker: Eastern Michigan at Kentucky, 7:30 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: SEC Network (alternate), UK Sports Radio Network.
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Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.