They don’t know. They might think they know, but they don’t know. “Touchdown” Terry Wilson and Gunnar Hoak, Kentucky’s top two candidates for starting quarterback, have never taken a snap in a Division I college football game.
Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw earn their paychecks by teaching them what to expect. Gran is UK’s offensive coordinator. Hinshaw is UK’s quarterbacks coach. Both know adversity is common, success is rare. So how do you prepare two untested quarterbacks for the adversity they will face in a game?
Answer: Force them to fail. That starts with tossing them into the frying pan of a high-speed practice. As best you can, make practice simulate game action. The highs. The lows. And everything in between.
“One, when we start Thursday we’re going to start calling (the team period) like a game,” said Gran on Tuesday after Kentucky’s fifth practice of the preseason. “We’re going to make it almost like a scrimmage for the rest of this camp. That’s going to help those guys.
“Two, as they’re moving the ball and they do something bad, they’ve got to re-focus. You’ve got to flip a switch, you’ve got to recover and you’ve got to move on to the next play.”
No finger-pointing. No head-hanging. There’s no time for that with the play clock running and the play call coming. That’s easier said than done, especially for young players used to the success that put them in this position in the first place.
“I call it cooking in their kitchen a little bit,” said Hinshaw, who along with assistant Josh Estes-Waugh handles the quarterbacks. “I try to get in their kitchen — especially when they’re tired and they make a mistake — really getting after them, getting the shoulders way down with some pressure on it. I try to create pressure while we’re out there on each one of them to play their very, very best.”
That means high standards and a low tolerance for excuses.
“Listen, it’s not okay to throw the ball just a little bit off-target,” Hinshaw said. “I’m like, ‘Why didn’t you throw it on target? I know it’s hot. I know it’s 100 degrees or whatever, you’ve got frickin’ Jordan Jones or whoever is trying to grab your facemask and you don’t throw it on target, but that’s the whole point.’ You create pressure. You create a game environment.”
So far, so good, Hinshaw said. After five days of installing the offense, both quarterbacks have hit a wall mentally. Wilson hit it first, which was to be expected. A junior college transfer, this is his first year in the program. This is Hoak’s third. That’s OK, said the coach.
“I want to see them, when they do something wrong, come out of it,” Hinshaw said. “I tell them to wipe the board clean. Clean the board, let’s go with the white piece of paper, forget what just happened. I know I’m going to be in your ear about it, but let’s go ahead and be ready for the next play. Let’s go execute that one the very best we can.”
Which brings us to another question: Especially for a young quarterback, how do you balance applying the pressure he needs to simulate the adversity he will face against the confidence he needs to play his best?
“There’s a fine line,” Hinshaw admitted, “Again, there’s times when they do things really well, I’m chest-bumping them, I’m picking them up, loving ‘em, high-fiving, you overemphasize that. You do something poor, ‘I can’t believe it. We just scored and now you just turned it over, we lost the game. You didn’t focus.’
“You go through the exact scenario that they’re going through, trying to keep them even keel all the way through practice.”
And ready for that first game Sept. 1 against Central Michigan, when inevitably something will go wrong — an interception, a bad throw, a missed receiver, a crushing sack. Those things are going to happen. As Gran and Hinshaw know, and Wilson and Hoak will learn, it’s what happens next that counts.
Kentucky football 2018 schedule