[caption id="attachment_344403" align="alignnone" width="2560"] Jacob Noger | UK Football
Mark Stoops and the Kentucky football coaching staff have been slowly building a competitor in the SEC East through historic recruiting and elite player development, allowing for top-tier talent among starters on both sides of the football and standout depth behind them. It's allowed for UK to finish in the top half of the division five years in a row, including a second place finish in 2018 and a third place finish in 2017.
For the Wildcats - who boast one of the most complete rosters from top to bottom in the division - to take that next step forward as a true contender for the SEC East title and earn a spot in the conference championship game in Atlanta, quarterback play has to make a considerable jump in 2021.
"We all understand that we need to improve at that position," Stoops told the media on Saturday.
And luckily for the program, it appears improvement is coming.
Joey Gatewood and Beau Allen are currently competing for the starting position on campus, while Penn State transfer and potential starter Will Levis patiently awaits his arrival later this year. Three quality options for the staff to choose from.
Of the two options currently competing for the job this spring, Stoops sees promise in both, as the ball is moving down the field better in practice than it has in "some time."
"Both guys that are in competition for the starting job, they've alternated days and both have done some really good things. You can see the confidence in both guys growing. They've really done a nice job," Stoops said. "We've gotten the ball down the field better than we have in some time. That's been good to see."
Individually, Stoops singled out Gatewood for his ability to execute in the play-action and converting on deep balls, but added that Allen has shown promise in those areas, as well.
"I will say, Joey's done a really nice job off the play-actions and the waggles, hitting some deep balls," he said. "... Beau had some really good ones today, as well. He dropped a dime on a deep pass today in a predictable pass situation that I would've liked to see the receiver come up with the catch, it could've been a touchdown. But both guys are really showing some good signs."
When asked about specific players who elevated their games this spring on both sides of the football, Stoops again went back to the quarterback position, praising both Gatewood and Allen for the strides they've made over the course of the last three weeks.
"Both quarterbacks have made big strides. I see the confidence in them, I see the awareness of where to go with the football,"
Stoops said. "... It's never just on the quarterback, you know that. Systematically, the players around them stepping up and making plays, I think it's contagious. I see the confidence in the quarterbacks growing, and it's rubbing off on the other guys. Beau and Joey are guys that I have seen make growth this spring, and that's important."
Ready to name a starter? Not quite, especially not until Levis joins the team this summer.
"No, no. Come on, you know better than that," Stoops said.
Still, though, the head coach's confidence regarding the position and his positivity as a whole certainly allows for optimism as the team closes out spring practice and prepares for fall camp.