John Clay

Mark Stoops would be taking a big risk with quarterback change

You’re Mark Stoops. Your Kentucky football team is 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the SEC. It’s ranked No. 12 in the latest AP Top 25 college football poll. It is already bowl eligible. It is one win away from the program’s first winning conference record since 1977.

Do you really mess with success?

We’re talking quarterbacks here. We’re always talking quarterbacks. Terry Wilson has started the first seven games of the season. And the junior-college transfer, who started his career at Oregon, has struggled of late. Terry Touchdown was indecisive at Texas A&M. He completed just three of nine passes and lost a fumble against Vanderbilt.

“(He’s) not played his best the past couple of games,” said Stoops at his weekly press luncheon on Monday.

Stoops said Wilson will remain the starter, but backup Gunnar Hoak would get more repetitions in practice. Later Monday, on his weekly radio show, Stoops advanced the puck. “I anticipate playing several quarterbacks this week,” the coach said.

Host Tom Leach asked if UK planned to play Wilson, Hoak and redshirt freshman Danny Clark. “I definitely think we will,” said the coach.

Time for a head scratch.

Yes, Wilson has struggled throwing the football. He’s completed 63.9 percent of his passes (78-of-122), but for just 721 yards with four touchdowns and five interceptions. He ranks 13th among the SEC’s 14 starting quarterbacks in pass efficiency.

gunnar.jpg
Backup quarterback Gunnar Hoak has not attempted a pass since the third game of the season but could see action Saturday at Missouri. Mark Mahan

He’s also UK’s second-leading rusher, however. He’s gained 395 yards on 78 attempts, including sacks. He rushed for 105 yards in the 27-16 win at Florida. He rushed for 80 yards in the win over Murray State. Overlooked in Saturday’s 14-7 win over Vanderbilt, Wilson rushed for 91 yards on 12 carries. His 25-yard run was the longest of the game.

And in the most important category, Wilson is 6-1 as a starter. The recipe for success that has resulted in those six wins has combined a strong defense with a strong running game. Averaging 124 yards per game, Benny Snell has had much to do with the latter. Yet Wilson has played a role, too.. The quarterback is as capable of breaking a long run as his stellar teammate.

Does Stoops want to change the recipe? That’s the question. To improve in one area — an area that may require improvement to get to where you want to go — do you risk becoming weaker in the area considered your strength?

On the season, Hoak has completed eight of 14 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns. He hasn’t attempted a pass since week three. And Clark has played only against Murray State. He ran the ball once (for a 2-yard touchdown) and did not throw a pass.

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Danny Clark, shown here in the Blue-White Game last spring, played in two games for Kentucky this season. The quarterback announced on Tuesday that he plans to transfer. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Maybe there was a motivational element to Stoops’ comments. Maybe in the age of social media and rampant transfers, the coach wanted to send a message that those not playing now could find themselves playing later. Or maybe he is trying to light a fire under Wilson, by all but stating the sophomore’s job is on the line.

Another factor: Recruiting. It is difficult to recruit a throwing quarterback to a school that threw the ball just nine times, and completed three in its last game and ranks 86th nationally in pass efficiency and 124th out of 130 in passing yards per game.

No matter the motive, the outcome is a telling test for the head coach. UK is in a three-way tie atop the SEC East. One of those three, Georgia, comes to Kroger Field in two weeks for what could be the most important Kentucky football game in over four decades.

Does the head coach take the big risk of a big change? Or does he stick with the quarterback who is an overtime loss from being 7-0? To me, the object of the game is to win the game. It has been a long time since Kentucky football was in this position. If I’m Mark Stoops, until proven otherwise, I’m thinking twice before I mess with success.

Saturday

No. 12 Kentucky at Missouri

When: 4 p.m. (EDT)

TV: SEC Network



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