By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
If college football is played this fall — and I believe it will be in the SEC — Kentucky should have one of the best ball possession offenses in the league. Knowing that Terry Wilson — a quarterback with experience and the ability to throw or run — will be behind center should make the UK offense very hard to defend. Also knowing that Wilson is a senior with a 12-3 record in 15 collegiate starts means he’s a proven commodity.
With Wilson, UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran knows if he needs to pass the ball he can but if he decides to continue on with a run-heavy offense as he did in 2019 he has the ability to do that also — especially with the quartet of running backs UK currently has.
Throwing in the fact that this Kentucky team has one of the top two offensive lines in the SEC puts an offensive coordinator in an enviable position. He can run the ball if teams try to play straight up defense but he has the ability to throw the ball enough in specific situations that teams will not be able to stack the box to stop the run.
Now, if for some reason Wilson is not the quarterback all season, the experiential drop could be a factor as one moves down the depth chart. Joey Gatewood, the Auburn transfer, if he becomes eligible could potentially be the backup behind Wilson. But if he is deemed eligible this year by the NCAA the Cats will have an option that is long on talent and relatively short on experience. Gatewood did play in seven games for Auburn last season and eight games in his two year career for the Tigers but only threw the ball eight times and ran it 32 times. So, as far as college experience as a quarterback goes, he has very little.
As far as talent goes, he has it all. As the No. 26 player nationally out of high school he was the No. 1 recruit in Auburn’s 2018 recruiting class. He has loads of talent — either throwing the ball or running it. He has been timed at 4.8 in the 40-yard dash which is not exceptional speed at the quarterback position but fast enough for a player that is 6-4 and weighs in at about 245 pounds. But again, he lacks experience.
As the potential No. 2 or No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart, Sawyer Smith has shown what he can do at the college level. He was a standout quarterback at Troy two years ago and last season showed that he can do more than manage a game if he is healthy. He played well in the Florida game until he injured his wrist and then injured his throwing shoulder against Mississippi State a couple of weeks later and was effectively done for the season.
Smith is a “throw first” pro-style type quarterback and not the best fit for this current Gran offense but UK has been known to adjust offenses on the fly and they could do it again if necessary. Smith provides another experienced player in the quarterback room that can win games in the SEC.
Finally that leaves true freshman Beau Allen as the fourth option on the depth chart. I know most football fans would say why worry about the fourth option, he’ll never get in the game. But with the season UK had last year we all know now that a team can never have too many talented quarterbacks. And Beau Allen fits that description.
He is a four-star Lexington Catholic product from Kentucky that was the No.13 pro-style quarterback in the country coming out of high school per Rivals. He is an excellent passer and is talented enough to win games in the SEC.
Gran has run all types of offenses in the many stops of his college coaching career and regardless of what fans think and say he is an excellent offensive coordinator. He also understands the game of football very well. His goal is to win football games — pure and simple — and will make whatever adjustments are necessary to do that.
He said this last year before the season started when Terry Wilson was the quarterback, “We want to be balanced. We want to be a little bit more balanced this year. If you had 80 plays, 40 throws, 40 runs, that would be perfect. That’s the perfect scenario. What we have to do is be more efficient in the passing game and more explosive.”
I believe that will be his plan again this year. Be explosive, have a balanced offense that is hard to defend and lean on the offensive line to open holes and provide pass protection. That is a winning combination. It won games in 2018 — a lot of them — and it won games in 2019 although the methodology was a little different. And that’s just the point. Gran has proven he knows how to adjust his offense based on the players he has and Gran has proven he knows how to win. This season shouldn’t be any different.
It just a matter of which chess pieces he wants to move where and which chess pieces are still on the board. But in the end Gran will figure out how to use one or more of these quarterbacks to create the perfect offensive strategy. And at that point it is checkmate.