QB Gunnar Hoak could be massive loss for Kentucky's 2019 season
What’s the quickest way to go from 10-3 to disaster? Kentucky fans might find out after junior backup QB Gunnar Hoak transferred to Ohio State.
Hoak entered the transfer portal last week. Mark Stoops held out hope, saying that Hoak could still return, but this weekend Hoak confirmed his is transferring to Ohio State, where his father played. The fourth-year junior is graduating from UK this spring and will have 2 years of immediate eligibility. He’ll join a QB room that includes Georgia transfer Justin Fields.
A look at the numbers certainly wouldn’t make Hoak’s loss seem terribly compelling. In 3 seasons in Lexington, Hoak is 13-for-26 passing for 167 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception. Those scores came against Central Michigan and FCS Murray State. But there’s more in play than numbers.
Hoak had 3 years in Kentucky’s system. In the team’s spring-ending Blue/White scrimmage game, leading the first and second-team offenses, Hoak showed his efficiency as a pocket passer, going 23-for-30 for 262 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Hoak’s upside was less impressive than Terry Wilson, the incumbent starter this fall. But Hoak had game experience, entering a couple of 2018 contests in which Wilson struggled with downfield passing. And behind him … well, there’s not much at all there.
Sophomore Walker Wood has spent more time recovering from various injuries than working his way toward any previous playing time. True freshmen Nik Scalzo and Amani Gilmore will both be fall arrivals on campus, greener than the Kroger Field turf on which they’ll be practicing. The only other roster QB is sophomore walk-on Kolbe Langhi.
Which brings us back to Terry Wilson. Now that Hoak is gone, Kentucky’s 2019 campaign rests heavily on the shoulders of Wilson. Wilson did lead Kentucky to 10 wins last season, but often looked uncomfortable on all but the simplest of passes, averaging barely over 7 yards per attempt. Wilson also carried the ball 135 times, second-most on UK’s team behind Benny Snell.
Without Snell in the backfield, Wilson stands likely carry even more of the load for the 2019 Wildcats. And in the unforgiving SEC, the backup quarterback is only one hard hit from becoming very, very necessary.
Several recent UK quarterbacks (Mike Hartline, Max Smith, Drew Barker, Stephen Johnson) either missed significant time due to injuries or suffered through them, with attendant issues in terms of on-field performance.
If Wilson gets his bell rung, Hoak no longer is the next man up, and Kentucky would be scrambling to replace him.
All of which could make for a dismal 2019 campaign. Kentucky’s margin of error was thin already. With Josh Allen, Snell, and a bevy of talented defensive backs playing on Sunday instead of Saturday, the Wildcats have to be efficient and controlled — exactly the kind of qualities that Hoak brought to the UK huddle. Now he’ll bring those qualities to Ohio State.
Maybe Kentucky’s recent streak of good luck will continue, and Wilson can shrug off an entire season’s worth of hard knocks without missing any time or having any associated loss of performance.
But make no mistake. There’s danger lurking here for Kentucky. After the slow rise from 2-10 to 5-7 to 7-5 to 10-3, a decline could come steeply, and it could begin at the quarterback position.