Is Terry Wilson in for a breakout season? Why I'm starting to believe in that possibility
I’ll be honest.
I’ve been critical of Terry Wilson. There was a trend I noticed with him last year that bothered me, and I’m sure it bothered plenty of Kentucky fans.
I thought at times, he played scared.
By “scared” I’m not saying he was afraid of contact or anything like that. I thought he was scared to make a mistake. Like, when he could have stepped into a deep throw and taken a risk, he didn’t. Maybe some of that was Kentucky having such a dominant running game, and the fact that the defense kept them in so many games.
And in Wilson’s defense, maybe he was right to have that mindset. We’re talking about a first-year starting quarterback who just led Kentucky to its best season in 4 decades. Obviously he did something right.
But this year, it’s a different story. With Benny Snell gone, the running game will have a different feel with A.J. Rose leading the way. On top of that, losing a once-in-a-generation player like Josh Allen means that there’s a massive hole in the Kentucky defense, which lost 3 defenders in the first 3 rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft.
So will a new year mean a new Wilson? I’m starting to like the odds of that.
For what it’s worth, I never questioned his ability last season. He made one of the best throws of anyone in the SEC last year:
— The Game Haus Sports (@TGHSports) September 9, 2018
Throws like that were partially why I was frustrated watching Wilson not take more downfield shots last year. I mean, he only had 2 games with multiple touchdown throws for the No. 117 passing offense in the country. But there were moments during Kentucky’s historic season in which you saw the potential.
When the Cats couldn’t do a thing offensively at Mizzou and they had 84 seconds to go 81 yards, what did Wilson do? He stepped up and delivered on-target throw after on-target throw. The 2-yard touchdown throw to C.J. Conrad as time expired was tougher than it looked, too.
Terry Wilson ➡️ CJ Conrad FOR THE WIN! pic.twitter.com/hyJZ2TtFow
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) October 27, 2018
That play — Wilson’s sixth consecutive completion on his perfect drive — kept Kentucky’s SEC East title hopes alive.
At times when Kentucky couldn’t turn to Benny Snell because of the situation, Wilson did come up clutch in some key moments. Those were the type of games that the Cats of old would find a way to lose.
Wilson is going to be asked to do more this year. There’s no way around it. And now that he’s not learning a new offense or figuring out how to read SEC defenses, the game should slow down for him.
But there might have been another reason why Kentucky didn’t want to put too much on Wilson’s plate last year. As we found out from a recent interview with Big Blue Insider. Wilson played through a rather serious leg injury during the middle of the 2018 season.
“It was late in the game, I think fourth quarter, I dropped back, had some pressure coming and I had gotten sacked and (offensive lineman) Bunchy (Stallings) fell on my right leg. My knee just did something silly,” Wilson revealed in the interview. “I was on the ground like, ‘Man.’ I wasn’t thinking anything about it, my adrenaline was running so I get up, I’m like, ‘Alright, it’s going to be a little sore.’”
And how did that affect him?
“It was messing with me mentally, I wasn’t trying to think about it too much because I knew I had a job to go out there and do for the team,” Wilson added.
It wasn’t until the Middle Tennessee game (Nov. 17) that Wilson said he felt healthy again.
Well, that makes sense considering the Cats went 6-0 during the timeframe in which Wilson said he was right and they suffered 3 losses in which they failed to reach 20 points during the 7-game stretch when he was dealing with the injury. The individual numbers back up Wilson’s health, too.
As SDS’ own Michael Bratton broke down, “in the 6 games Wilson played injury free, he threw for 895 yards with 6 touchdowns and rushed for 358 yards and 3 scores. In the 7 games he was affected by injury, Wilson passed for 994 yards and 5 scores, but more important, only rushed for 189 yards and a single touchdown.”
Wilson, if he’s healthy, will run for more than 27 yards per game — that was what he averaged during the 7 games he said he was impacted by the injury — and a score more than once with his legs. And maybe because of how the injury happened, the Cats tried to keep Wilson out of deep drop-back situations throughout the season.
As for why he played through that injury, remember that Wilson was battling to keep Gunnar Hoak from stealing his job throughout last year. The last thing the former Oregon transfer wanted to do was open the door for someone to pass him up, much like Justin Herbert did in 2016.
This a prime opportunity for a healthy Wilson to step in and become the game-changer that Kentucky needs to avoid a major step back in 2019. Even though Snell is gone, Lynn Bowden is back after a season in which he had 4 times as many catches as Kentucky’s next-closest wide receiver. The Cats are going to want to get someone with All-SEC potential plenty of looks.
And as frustrating as it was to watch Wilson not make some of those downfield throws, the guy was still extremely accurate. Despite that injury, he only dipped below 60% in a game once, and after a multi-interception game in the opener (his FBS debut), he didn’t have another one of those the rest of the season.
So what am I saying about Wilson? Given what he revealed about his 2018 injury, I think he projects much better for a breakout year in 2019. Maybe he’s someone who can account for 3,500 yards from scrimmage and 30 total touchdowns. Or maybe I’m just sipping too much blue Kool-Aid and Wilson will play second fiddle again in a run-heavy offense.
Either way, I’m starting to think more and more about Wilson’s potential in Year 2.