When asked recently about the success of his defense, Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops explained it is a veteran group that boasts a lot of on-the-field experience.
“They’ve seen a lot of football,” Stoops said.
On the other side of the ball, and spectrum, is Terry Wilson. UK’s sophomore quarterback is in his first year of playing Division I football, and to this point has started six games. He has not seen a lot of football. Surely that was a factor in Wilson’s shaky performance when the Cats suffered their first loss of the season, falling 20-14 in overtime at Texas A&M.
Playing in front of friends and family from his native Oklahoma, Wilson completed 13 of 20 passes for 108 yards, but 54 of those yards came on a pop/shovel pass behind the line of scrimmage to Lynn Bowden, who raced for the score. Previously dangerous running the football, Wilson was limited to a net of 4 yards on 14 attempts, a figure skewed by six sacks.
“I’m going to be honest, Texas A&M did some things that we prepared for, but you can’t prepare for everything,” UK quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw said Tuesday. “And me, as his quarterbacks coach, I can prepare him better.”
The Aggies primarily rushed the passer with four down linemen and dropped the remaining seven defenders into pass coverage. That forced Wilson to go through his reads, which often made him hold on to the ball too long. And when Wilson did scramble, he was hemmed in by defenders.
“They were doing some things to corral him and keep him in the pocket,” Hinshaw said.
“We all have to perform better,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said Tuesday. “Coaches, players, everybody for us to take that next step.”
Indeed, that was then and this is now. The UK offense had a bye week to sort through the A&M loss, review the first six games of the regular season — five of them UK victories — and plan for the final six.
“I didn’t think I helped him enough for some rhythm throws,’ Gran said. “And he’ll tell you he didn’t play his greatest game, either. But there are so many things that could have helped the young man, whether it be up front, whether it be the receivers, whether it be the running backs. . . . I think it was collective.”
Not that Wilson is buying that. The quarterback doesn’t mind the criticism. “I’m hard on myself,” he said Tuesday. “I know the expectations I have to bring that come with this position. If I mess up, I’m already on myself before anybody else can get on me.”
The irony is Wilson excelled in his first SEC road game as a starting quarterback, throwing for 151 yards and two scores while rushing for 105 and another touchdowns in Kentucky’s 27-16 win at Florida on Sept. 8.
In the four games since, however, opponents have gathered more film on the quarterback to help form a plan to minimize his strengths while maximizing the amount of defensive looks he must interpret.
“I watch a lot of film, so I feel like I’ve seen a lot of things on the defensive side,” Wilson said. “I just feel like the biggest thing for me is to experience it on the field and once I see it, to execute it.”
The education continues Saturday. Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason was defensive coordinator at Stanford before coming to the Commodores. This year, he brought in former NFL defensive coordinator Jason Tarver to run the Vandy defense.
“They do a lot and they’re good at it,” Hinshaw said of Vanderbilt. “They’re going to throw a lot at you.”
Some of it Wilson no doubt will be seeing for the first time. That’s the rub. To be an experienced player, you have to gain experience. No shortcuts.
“I feel like I’m getting better every day at practice, just got to put it into the game,” Wilson said. “I feel like the second half of the season is going to be good.”