UK Football Positional Preview: RB’s/QB’s

(Photo courtesy of Jim Brown/USA Today)

One of the hardest things to do in college football is replace a successful, multi-year starting quarterback. This is the dilemma that Coach Mark Stoops finds himself in going into the 2018 season. Stephen Johnson went 14-10 as the primary quarterback in his two years in Lexington. He is the first Kentucky Wildcat quarterback to beat both Louisville and Tennessee since 1924. Making the task tougher will be the fact that none of the candidates have taken a Division I snap. On a positive note, the three likely candidates for the starting quarterback job are all talented and capable of filling Stephen Johnson’s cleats admirably. Let’s look at the candidates:

Terry Wilson (6-3, 200) is a junior college transfer from Garden City Community College, in Garden City , Kansas. Wilson was originally recruited to the University of Oregon by Scott Frost, when Frost was Oregon’s offensive coordinator, in the class. However, Wilson transferred after his redshirt season for the Ducks, after a staff change in Eugene. He ended up at Garden City Community College, where he threw for 2,113 yards, with 26 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. Wilson showed that he is also a true dual-threat quarterback, rushing for 517 yards and 5 rushing touchdowns at Garden City. With his size and experience, as well as being present for spring practice, I believe that Wilson will be the front runner for the starting job.

(Photo courtesy of the University of Kentucky)

Gunnar Hoak (6-4, 210) has competed well in the past two Spring Games for the Wildcats. He has a knowledge of the playbook and experience getting reps with offensive coordinator Eddie Gran and quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw. This will be a huge advantage for Hoak going into spring practice. What will hurt Hoak is his lack of live game experience. Hoak has never taken a college snap at any level in a live game. He does possess an accurate arm, with power to make all of the necessary throws, as evidenced by his Spring Game numbers. He went 16-24 for 174 yards and 3 touchdown passes, as well as adding one rushing touchdown.

(Photo courtesy of Mike Weaver/Louisville Courier-Journal)

The next candidate for the starting quarterback job is Danny Clark (6-2, 230). Danny Clark was a highly rated, four star quarterback coming out of Archbishop Hoban High School in Columbus, Ohio. He was originally an Ohio State commitment, which is a reflection of his talent, but decommitted after being recruited over. His senior year, he threw for 2,122 yards and 15 TD. Clark redshirted for the 2017 season, working on developing his skills and learning the playbook. Clark has a rocket arm and can make every throw necessary to excel in this offense. The biggest drawback for Clark to win the job will be his inexperience. Clark’s only action in college was in a backup role to Gunnar Hoak in the 2017 Spring Game.

(Photo courtesy of the University of Kentucky)

There is another possibility at quarterback, which is Walker Wood (6-0, 185). Wood is a dual-threat quarterback, who redshirted during the 2017 season. Wood is the smallest of the four quarterback of the candidates, but put up great numbers as a high school quarterback at Lexington’s Lafayette High School. His senior year, Wood had 3,047 yards and 30 touchdowns passing and added 1,321 yards and 31 touchdowns rushing. While his dual-threat style is what Eddie Gran seems to desire, Wood’s size will be his biggest hindrance.

(Photo courtesy of the University of Kentucky)

This group has great talent and potential, but very little experience. Because of his experience at Garden City Community College, as well as his dual-threat abilities, I believe that Terry Wilson will win the starting position at quarterback. The depth chart will likely look like this:

QB: Terry Wilson (6-3, 200); Gunnar Hoak (6-3, 220); Danny Clark (6-2, 230); Walker Wood (6-0, 185)

In the backfield with “Touchdown Terry” will be a tremendously talented group of athletic running backs. Position coach and offensive coordinator Eddie Gran will likely rely even more on the running back position, with three talented players returning. A good running game will be key to alleviating some pressure on a brand new starting quarterback. Gran has several great options at running back, but the battle for the starting spot begins and ends with one player.

Returning starter Benny Snell (5-11, 223) was the SEC’s regular season leading rusher in 2017, with 1,333 yards and 19 touchdowns rushing. This was Snell’s second consecutive 1,000+ yard season, rushing for 1,091 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2016. Snell is a workhorse, averaging 224 carries per year and 5.5 yards per carry. If he continues that pace, Snell would rush for 1,232 yards this year. That would give him a three year total of 3,656 yards, good for second all time at the University of Kentucky. Snell is a bruising back, who rarely goes down on first contact. He is a strong runner, who seems to get better as the game wears on. In short, Benny is the clear-cut starter at running back.

(Photo courtesy of Mark Zerof/USA Today)

Behind Snell, Sihiem King (5-9, 172) is a very capable running back, who provides a change of pace to the bruising style that Snell runs with. Call him the lightning to Benny’s thunder, “Si-Fi” is a shifty, fast runner, who needs only a small crack to turn a short gainer into a long run. King ran for 364 yards and 3 touchdowns on 79 rushing attempts in 2017, good for a 4.6 yard per carry average. His best game came against Vanderbilt, where he ran for 69 yards and 2 touchdowns. King could carry a larger workload, but is the perfect complement to Snell, forming a dynamic tandem in the Wildcat’s backfield.

(Photo courtesy of Mark Zerof/USA Today)

Filling up the depth chart behind King becomes more challenging, particularly after the abrupt transfer of a Bryant Koback. A.J. Rose (6-0, 220) is the next likely candidate to fill the spot behind Sihiem King. Rose was used sparingly in 2017, gaining 28 yards on 10 carries. Rose possesses a bruising style, much like Snell, with a bit quicker first step. He is capable of putting up big numbers, due to his exceptional talents. As a high school senior, he filled in for his injured teammate at quarterback and passed for 616 yards and 10 touchdowns, while rushing 94 times for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns. Rose is poised for a breakout season.

(Photo courtesy of ChatSports)

Filling out the running back roster are two talented incoming freshman, Christopher Rodriguez (6-0, 200) and Kavosiey Smoke (6-0, 210). Both running backs were three star recruits and both had great numbers their senior season in high school. It will be an interesting camp battle to see how the rest of the depth chart at running back fills out. Rodriguez is a tough runner, with a bit more speed than Smoke. Smoke is a bruising runner, with enough speed to outrun a defender once he breaks into the open field.

(Photos courtesy of 247Sports (left) and Henry Herald (right))

This is another position where the talent is plentiful and all of the players could eventually be a starter. However, unlike the quarterback position, the running back position has a clear cut starter, with two year starter Benny Snell returning. That being said, I believe that the running back depth chart will look like this:

RB: Benny Snell (5-11, 223); Sihiem King (5-9, 172); A.J. Rose (6-0, 220); Kavosiey Smoke (6-0, 210) OR Christopher Rodriguez (6-0, 200).

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