Wildcat Forecast: Can Terry Touchdown Take the Next Step?

Adam Luckett09/14/20
200818 Preseason Practice 1_JN07
<small>Jacob Noger | UK Athletics</small>
[caption id="attachment_311298" align="alignnone" width="2560"] Jacob Noger | UK Athletics[/caption] The 2020 college football season is up and running and it figures to be a crazy one. The special teams play in Week 2 proved that and we need to buckle in for what will be a wild ride in the SEC-only format. Kentucky enters this season with one of the best rosters in program history and they'll be looking to cash in with a strong season as they return a boatload of production. Now we'll help you start getting ready for the year by breaking down each spot. First up is the most important position in the sport.

Leader in the Room

Junior college transfer Terry Wilson was named a captain entering his redshirt junior season in 2019 after he led the Wildcats to ten wins in 13 starts in his first season under center. In that first year, the dual-threat quarterback proved to be a very effective rusher, putting up 726 yards on non-sack carries while averaging nearly seven yards per carry, but he took way too many sacks (9.5% sack rate). UK used him as a game manager who delivered the ball with accuracy (67.2% completion rate) but they rarely pushed the ball vertically, shown by his 7.0 yards per attempt number. That should be much, much higher if you're completing nearly 70 percent of your throws. In year two, we saw Wilson get more vertical and time was going to tell if the numbers were going to take a big jump. However, he could not finish Game Two thanks to a torn patellar tendon in his left knee. Now he enters his senior season with plenty of question marks as last year was supposed to be the step-up season. There's no denying that Wilson is the leader of team and the program was gutted by the loss of their quarterback last year. Despite much national media noise about Auburn transfer Joey Gatewood, Wilson is the unquestioned QB1 in Lexington and if he's good, Kentucky has a shot at having a great season. However, his advanced numbers need improvement and hitting a downfield throws will make a world of difference.

Supporting Cast

Joey Gatewood became one of the biggest transfer additions in recent memory for the program and it's easy to understand why. The Jacksonville, Florida native was a top-50 recruit coming out of the class of 2018 and he drew many Cam Newton comparisons when he started his career at Auburn. After a redshirt season, he lost the quarterback battle to five-star AU legacy Bo Nix and decided to leave just a few games into the 2019 campaign. UK is still awaiting a waiver from the NCAA, but if it is received, Gatewood will be a wildcat option who would likely get snaps every week to give opposing defenses a unique look to prepare for. Gatewood had some pretty pedestrian stats in Gus Malzahn's offense (5 of 8 passing, 58 yards, 2 touchdowns, 176 rushing yards, 5.5 yards per carry, 3 rushing touchdowns). He's still rough around the edges in a lot of areas, but has the talent to make an impact in immediate ways if he is able to get a transfer waiver. Beau Allen was QB1 on Kentucky's recruiting big board in 2020 and the Wildcats were able to convince the Lexington Catholic product to stay home. The high three-star recruit picked UK over Mike Leach when he was at Washington State and David Cutcliffe at Duke, two guys known mainly for their high-level quarterback development. Allen was the program's highest-ranked QB recruit since Drew Barker and expectations are high for the program legacy. Mark Stoops isn't backing away from high praise. [caption id="attachment_314635" align="alignnone" width="2560"] Jacob Noger | UK Athletics[/caption] “You look at Beau, as I mentioned the other day, he’s everything we thought he was — and that’s just a quarterback, a guy that’s very comfortable. He has that vision and the anticipation and accuracy that you’re looking for. He’s just a hard-working guy with a lot of talent. I’m very proud to have Beau.” Allen was never able to lead Lexington Catholic on a long playoff run, but he did put up some monster stats. The 6-foot-2 passer was listed as a top-20 pro-style quarterback and had over 11,000 passing yards in his prep career with 127 touchdowns. He was a star at the high school level and will have a chance to be QB1 in Lexington as early as 2021. Allen's high school numbers were gaudy. 2018: 65.3% completions, 10.44 ypa, 42/9 TD-INT, 11.76% TD Rate, 2.52% INT Rate, 740 rush yards 2019: 67.8% completions, 10.06 ypa, 38/7 TD-INT, 10.38% TD Rate, 1.91% INT Rate, 478 rush yards When Gunnar Hoak left for Ohio State as a grad transfer last offseason, it put the program in a bit of a bind. Quarterback depth was severely lacking and it was quite possible that one of the two low three-star prospects signed in the class of 2019 recruiting class could have to be QB2. That was a dangerous proposition so the staff visited the transfer portal and brought in Troy transfer Sawyer Smith. A fellow low three-star recruit out of the Pensacola area in Florida, Smith was primarily a backup at Troy but did start seven games as a redshirt sophomore with a blistering performance in Troy's bowl victory over Buffalo. However, he's fresh off a year full of injuries and figures to provide depth this season. With the departure of Amani Gilmore heading to North Texas, that leaves just Nik Scalzo among the QBs in the class of 2019 and this one is still rehabbing his second ACL injury. When healthy, Scalzo showed some nice playmaking ability for Cardinal Gibbons in South Florida as he threw for over 6,000 yards in three seasons against some big time competition.

Freddie's Take

The 2020 Kentucky Wildcats are unquestionably Terry Wilson’s team. Wilson is 12-3 as the Cats’ starting quarterback. In 2018, “Terry Touchdown” led UK to its first 10-win season since 1977 which includes a win over Penn State in the Citrus Bowl. For his career he’s completed 66.5% of his passes for 2,299 yards and 13 touchdowns. Unfortunately, the Wildcat signal caller tore his patellar tendon against Eastern Michigan in the second game and was lost for the 2019 season. Wilson relentlessly rehabbed his injured knee and is ready for a breakout season. Expectations are high. Head Coach Mark Stoops, “I expect him to run the offense better than he did prior to the injury. I don’t think there’s any doubt that he will.” ESPN’s Mark Schlabach predicted Wilson to be the SEC Comeback Player of the Year. Following Wilson’s injury, Troy grad transfer Sawyer Smith played well against Eastern Michigan and Florida until he sustained an injury which greatly impacted his performances against South Carolina and Mississippi State. He still completed 57 of 125 passes for 690 yards and four touchdowns. Insert receiver Lynn Bowden as the Cats' emergency quarterback following Smith’s injuries and the now Miami Dolphin experienced both individual and team success. Smith is now healthy and fully capable of executing offensive coordinator Eddie Gran’s offense. Auburn transfer Joey Gatewood is still waiting for an eligibility ruling from the NCAA but has been getting meaningful reps in preseason camp. Gatewood (6’4, 221) possesses the size, arm strength, and speed to play QB in the Southeastern Conference. The former 4-star recruit was the 3rd ranked dual-threat quarterback in the nation and the number 26 overall player in the Class of 2018.
True freshman Beau Allen is a UK legacy and has impressed during preseason camp. The Lexington native is a tireless worker and student of the game. Allen could manage Eddie Gran’s offense if called upon. Overall, the quarterback position is talented, experienced and deep. However, if 2019 taught us anything it’s that a team can never have enough capable quarterbacks. As we inch closer to Kentucky's road trip to Auburn, remember that this is Terry Wilson’s team.

Biggest Question Mark

It all comes down to QB1 and it is the question that everyone is asking: Just how healthy is Terry Wilson? The camp reports have been very positive and the quarterback himself even believes he is 100%, but we won't really know until we see take some live reps when the Wildcats open the season on the Plains. Wilson has yet to take a hit in practice and is playing with a wide receiver corps that still have a lot to prove. If the quarterback is healthy, it should allow the offense to be just fine. If he is timid about tucking and running the football, it could limit the attack and force Eddie Gran to get creative in trying to manufacture yards outside of the traditional run game.

Bold Prediction

"Terry Wilson gives UK its best traditional QB play since 2010"

A UK quarterback hasn't thrown for at least 20 touchdowns since Mike Hartline was spinning it to Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews in 2010. Frankly, that's pretty hard to believe. After messing with the Air Raid, the offensive DNA has turned into physical run game with an emphasis a ball control in the Stoops era and it has led to a lot of wins. However, there is no hiding from the fact that the passing game needs to level up. With a senior at quarterback who has 15 starts under his belt, throwing to a bunch of upperclassmen at wide receiver and tight end, this will be the year that it happens -- even in an abbreviated schedule. Defenses will be keyed on UK's offensive line and running game which should open plenty of opportunities to make plays in the air. Wilson will find his groove as offensive balance will be restored.