UK Football

UK Blue-White game: Five players we’ll be watching closely on Friday night

Who will Mark Stoops miss more, Benny Snell or Josh Allen?

After his team's 27-24 win over Penn State in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, 2019, in Orlando, Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops was asked which of his stars will he miss most -- Benny Snell or Josh Allen? UK finished the season 10-3.
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After his team's 27-24 win over Penn State in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, 2019, in Orlando, Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops was asked which of his stars will he miss most -- Benny Snell or Josh Allen? UK finished the season 10-3.

With starters aplenty gone from a team that won 10 games, many players can make an impression in this spring’s final scrimmage, and the only one in front of fans at Kroger Field.

“We’ve gotta wrap this up tomorrow and continue to have a really solid summer, but it’s been productive,” head coach Mark Stoops said Thursday after UK’s final practice before Friday night’s Blue-White Spring Game. “ ... There’s not a whole heck of a lot of dead weight anymore in our program, and if there is, they have a tendency to move their way out and move on. I think most of our guys are progressing.”

Here are five of those guys we’re excited to see step foot on C.M. Newton Grounds.

Terry Wilson

It will be interesting to see how Wilson fares in this year’s spring game compared to last year’s edition, now that he’s had a year under his belt but also has a host of new targets with which to get acquainted.

Wilson was 10-of-24 and threw an interception and no touchdown passes in his debut in front of fans last April. He went on to start every game, completing 67.2 percent of his passes and throwing for 11 scores, but also eight picks. He made up for some of those miscues with his play-making ability as a runner, but better decision-making will be expected of Wilson, the presumptive starter, in year two.

He’s eager to “got out there and move the ball” on Friday.

“We have a lot of good plays in our arsenal and we just gotta keep getting better at all the little stuff on the plays,” Wilson said Tuesday. “We’re just throwing in some the new things and everybody’s gotta get used to it.”

Gunnar Hoak

Hoak played in five games last season, throwing for two scores, but never rose above the No. 2 spot on UK’s depth chart at quarterback. The coaching staff has liked what it has seen from Hoak in the spring and has planned as if he’ll be back with the team this fall, but the specter of a possible transfer — he would have two years of eligibility elsewhere after graduating next month — looms.

An impressive showing Friday night could be evaluated in a couple of ways: Is it an exhibition for other programs or an opportunity to stake his own claim for the starting role?

“All that stuff will take care of itself,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said Tuesday. “He’ll do what he has to do and I don’t think you can plan for it until it happens, then you gotta figure it out.”

Josh Ali

The junior had a breakout performance last season against Louisville — 59 yards and a touchdown on three catches — but otherwise was mostly unheard from; his only other multi-catch performance came at Missouri, when he went for 22 yards on two grabs.

An offense that’s hoping to be more pass-oriented this fall requires receivers who can make big plays. Other than Lynn Bowden there’s little experience in the group, but Ali might be Terry Wilson’s next-best target.

“Josh has been more consistent and he’s made some explosive plays,” Stoops said. “He’s working really hard. I’ve been really pleased with him.”

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Brandin Echols

Stoops spotlighted Echols, one of two newcomers to the secondary by way of junior college, ahead of the spring game.

“Brandin has been solid and really competitive,” Stoops said. “I’ve been pleased with his progress.”

Echols, who has two years of eligibility, ranked second in the National Junior College Athletic Association with six interceptions last season for Northwest Mississippi Community College and was a second-team All-American.

He and fellow junior-college transfer Quandre Mosely (Eastern Arizona Community College), who chose UK over Oregon and Utah, provide additional experience for a defensive secondary in need of replacements at every starting position.

“They adjusted to the speed a little bit better than the high school guys at first, and they played against some good players and good receivers, good offenses and good quarterbacks,” defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale said. They’re used to that competitiveness.”

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Josh Paschal

Paschal redshirted last season but was able to play in UK’s final three games after undergoing three surgeries and continuing immunotherapy treatment for a malignant melanoma discovered last summer. He thrived as an outside linebacker his freshman season and returned in that role, but the staff has moved the 6-3, 278-pound sophomore to defensive end this spring.

That’s been an additional challenge on top of getting back to perfect health.

“He’s still a little bit frustrated, ‘cause if you know anything about him, he wants to come back out and be the dominant player that he knows he can be,” Stoops said. “And he’s just not there yet. There’s still just getting used to that foot, where they reconstructed it and did a lot of surgeries on the poor kid. ... He’s got work to do but we’re confident he’ll be back at 100 percent.”

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