Kentucky fans at Friday night’s Blue-White Spring Game got a little peek at what quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw meant when he talked about the growing confidence of backup Gunnar Hoak.
“He’s playing winning football,” Hinshaw said during the spring. “We can win in the SEC with Gunnar Hoak, 100 percent.”
Hoak, leading the White team of reserves at Commonwealth Stadium, led that group back from a 14-0 deficit early to even it up at the break 14-14.
With four minutes to go before the break, the redshirt freshman quarterback found Kayaune Ross for a pretty 10-yard touchdown pass in the right corner. It capped a drive that went 70 yards in 14 plays and included a key fourth-down conversion near midfield.
Several times showing an ability to escape, Hoak found true freshman early enrollee Clevan Thomas on a 7-yard strike to even things up at the break.
In the fourth quarter, when UK moved to a running clock, Hoak came in and guided the first-team offense to a score, going up 24-14 on a 3-yard run by Sihiem King.
The little-used running back last season got plenty of work on Friday night, including 41 yards and a touchdown in the first half.
Combined stats, while playing for both teams, had the reserve quarterback going 16-for-24 for 174 yards and two touchdowns. He ended the spring game with a 5-yard scoring run for Blue.
The final score in front of an announced crowd of 37,172 (tickets distributed) was Blue beating White 31-14.
▪ The Blue team went up 14-0 early behind big plays from Benny Snell, who showed some versatility in his play-making ability, catching three passes for 20 yards to go with his 22 rushing yards on three carries and a 3-yard touchdown to open the scoring.
Snell caught just two passes all of last season for 39 total yards.
▪ Starting quarterback Stephen Johnson, who led the drive to put the Blue team back up 17-14 early in the third quarter before coming out, finished the evening 8-for-18 for 106 yards and one interception (missed on a screen, picked off by reserve Kei Beckham). Johnson missed six straight passes during one span late in the first half after starting the game hot.
▪ Jordan Jones, who led the Cats in tackles last season with 109, including 15.5 tackles for loss and four sacks, was held out of the spring game after missing a meeting on Friday morning, UK said. The junior was on sideline for the game.
In Jones’ place on the Blue team was Eli Brown, who played in 12 games last season and had 24 tackles. In the first half, Brown had two tackles, including one that took running back A.J. Rose out of the game after a long carry. Brown also had a sack early in the second half of new White quarterback Danny Clark.
▪ Several other players of note were out, including wide receiver Garrett Johnson (groin) and cornerback Lonnie Johnson (hamstring),
Others missed all of or most of spring and didn’t play, including tight end C.J. Conrad (shoulder), defensive tackle Alvonte Bell (knee) and running back Bryant Koback (leg).
▪ Also out were quarterback Drew Barker (back), defensive back Kendall Randolph (ankle) and defensive lineman Tymere Dubose (coaches’ decision).
▪ There was limited live special teams work in the spring game with the exception of field goals and extra points. In the first half, Austin MacGinnis missed his first field goal attempt from 43 yards. The hero in two games last season, including the regular-season upset at Louisville, also missed his first kick in the spring game last season (52 yards). He hit a 27-yard field goal to put the Blue team up 17-14 early in the second half on Friday night.
Working for both teams, sophomore punter Grant McKinniss averaged 36.7 yards per punt with his longest punt going 50 yards. With an average of 39.2 yards per punt, McKinniss was last in the Southeastern Conference last season.