LEXINGTON – Questions surrounding who would replace Stephen Johnson, the University of Kentucky quarterback that led the Wildcats to back-to-back bowl games, were answered last week before Saturday’s season opener when Mark Stoops named Terry Wilson the starter.
Stoops had indicated throughout the preseason that he hoped to get both Wilson and Gunnar Hoak into the first game of the year against Central Michigan University, however.
Kentucky was able to do that, and both showed some bright spots – and room for improvement – in the 35-20 win.
Now, will they continue to use both as they head to Florida next week?
“I don’t know” was the answer Stoops gave in the postgame press conference.
With Wilson leading the way, the Wildcats picked up one first down and were forced to punt on their first two drives. Wilson fumbled on the third possession and it was recovered by CMU’s Sean Adesanya, leading to a 26-yard field goal to put the ‘Cats in an early hole.
In Kentucky’s first possession of the second quarter, Wilson avoided a sack on third down, but then threw a pass to the end zone that was intercepted. CMU used a 14-play, 80-yard drive – kept alive by a targeting call on Chis Westry on 3rd-and-11 – to take a 10-7 lead.
Wilson was picked off again with under two minutes to play in the first half, giving CMU the ball back at the UK 10-yard line with a 17-14 lead. He was hit while making the throw and wouldn’t return in the half. Wilson finished the first half completing six-of-11 passes for 38 yards. He rushed for 20 yards on seven carries.
“I got off to a slow start. I had a little jitter in me,” said Wilson. “I feel like in the second half we came out and did what we were supposed to do. We just have to come out earlier with that attitude.”
After another CMU field goal, Gunnar Hoak got his shot with 55 seconds before halftime and made the most of it.
Hoak completed three passes to David Bouvier, including a 24-yard touchdown pass while getting hit, on a 6-play, 71-yard drive to take a 21-20 lead into the break, despite four first-half Kentucky turnovers.
“I just have to give my all for the team. That’s the role I’ve been put in. I’m a team guy, that’s the way I came in, I’ve always been that way. I have to give my all every time I get the opportunity,” said Hoak.
“You’re one play away if you are going in as the backup,” added Hoak. “You have to have the right mindset every day you come here.”
He earned the second-half start, but completed only one more pass in two series. Hoak completed four-of-nine passes for 50 yards in the game.
“Terry was ready to play at the start of the second half, and Gunnar deserved the opportunity to go back and play for what he did at the end of the first half there. And I’m glad. In a way, I mean obviously we don’t want anybody to get hurt, but to be forced into that situation, see the way Gunnar responded, and the way he played says a lot about him, like I mentioned, and then to come back in the second half – and now you gotta do the same thing with Terry,” said Stoops. “You gotta get him back in and let him get acclimated to the game and the speed of the game and get some positive energy going for the season, and so it worked out very good.”
Wilson returned to complete five-of-seven second-half passes for 40 yards. He also ran the ball twice for 18 yards in the final two quarters. Wilson was in for the Wildcats’ two scoring drives in the second half to close out the 35-20 win.
Stoops may not know whether they’ll go with two quarterbacks next week in Florida just yet, but believes both will be ready to go.
“You know, obviously we’ll worry about that next week. It’s a tough environment. And yeah, I anticipate that both guys will be ready to play,” said Stoops. “We’ll see where we’re at this week and get back to work, but yeah, both guys will be ready to go.”
Leading into Saturday’s game, Central Michigan running back Jonathan Ward said he didn’t know who Kentucky running back Benny Snell was. The junior ran the ball 20 times for 125 yards and two scores – including a 52-yard run where he jumped between two CMU defenders en route to the end zone – in the game, despite battling illness.
“He had a temperature and a viral infection, and [athletic trainer] Jim [Madaleno] thought he’d be okay overnight. We were watching him. And he woke up and wasn’t feeling great,” said Stoops. “And so they took him to the hospital and gave him a bag of fluids and checked him out and he came back and played pretty solid.”
CMU likely knows who Benny Snell is now, and they also likely know who A.J. Rose is. The sophomore – and Snell’s roommate – broke free for a 55-yard touchdown in the first quarter. He finished the game with 104 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries. Rose rushed for 37 yards on 15 carries last year.
“I showed flashes in the spring game of what I could do,” said Rose. “I went out there today to show my full ability and I feel like I did a great job of doing that.”
Sihiem King added six carries for 32 yards in the victory.
DEFENSE DOES IT
Kentucky’s defense shut out Central Michigan in the second half to preserve the victory. They allowed just 97 yards of offense in the second half and 255 in the game. Kash Daniel finished with 11 tackles and Josh Allen had 10, including three for a loss. All three scoring drives from the CMU offense came after a Kentucky turnover.