Top Cat? Ranking UK’s quarterbacks of the 21st century
There’s more than one way to be an effective quarterback. Consider this in the context of Kentucky’s position group from the past 2 decades, which includes great passers like Jared Lorenzen and Andre Woodson and scramblers like Randall Cobb and Lynn Bowden. But how do they stack up? Well, below is the ranking of the 13 UK quarterbacks from 2000-present who attempted 100 passes. Unfortunately, this actually excludes Bowden, but we’ll address him (and where he would rank) within the list.
Here are the top Cats.
13. Morgan Newton (2009-12)
Key stats: 50.3% completions, 1,837 yards, 15 TDs, 13 INTs
Newton showed great promise in helping Kentucky win 7 games as a true freshman in 2009, passing for 706 yards with 6 TDs against 3 interceptions. The bad news is that as the collection of players around him got weaker, so did Newton’s skills. He missed a game his senior year because he was taking the LSAT. While he did play for two bowl-bound Kentucky teams, his career ended up a disappointment after a promising start.
12. Sawyer Smith (2019-20)
Key stats: 45.2% completions, 690 yards, 4 TDs, 5 INTs
Smith was supposed to be a backup in 2019, showed excellent skills for much of the Florida game, and then suffered several injuries, each of which reduced his effectiveness more than the one before. By the end of the season, he would sometimes take a snap or two in relief of Lynn Bowden, but his passing was erratic. He was better than his numbers, but he might not get the chance to prove it in 2020.
11. Drew Barker (2015-17)
Key stats: 50.4% completions, 747 yards, 5 TDs, 7 INTs
Not unlike Smith, Barker had one great game, or part of a game — he threw for almost 300 yards in the first half of the 2016 opener against Southern Mississippi. But like Smith, lingering injuries prevented him from making any sort of long-term contribution to the program.
10. Jalen Whitlow (2012-13)
Key stats: 57.8% completions, 1,836 yards, 8 TDs, 7 INTs, 663 yards rushing, 9 rushing TDs
Whitlow split time with Maxwell Smith and was the mobile QB for Joker Phillips’ final UK team and Mark Stoops’ first one. Those teams went 4-20, but Whitlow was one of the more productive players, showing decent passing and rushing skills under tough circumstances.
9. Shane Boyd (2001-04)
Key stats: 51.8% completions, 2,484 yards, 13 TDs, 17 INTs, 845 rushing yards, 13 rushing TDs, 8 receptions, 187 receiving yards, 1 TD
Boyd started a few games in 2001 and most of the 2004 season, but also played a slash role in 2002 and 2003, showing excellent rushing skills, and catching a handful of passes. As a quarterback, he sometimes struggled with the subpar teams he played on (2-9 seasons in 2001 and 2004). He might have been better used as a wide receiver, but he certainly displayed a varied skill set in Lexington.
8. Randall Cobb (2008-10)
Key stats: 50.8% completions, 689 yards, 5 TDs, 5 INTs, also had 1,313 rushing yards and 22 rushing TDs, 1,661 receiving yards, and 13 receiving TDs.
Cobb played quarterback for much of the 2008 season, and amassed most of his passing stats in that role (although he did throw the occasional pass even as a wide receiver in 2010). As a quarterback, Cobb was a better passer than Lynn Bowden, but was perhaps not quite as elusive as a rusher. He undoubtedly would have improved had he stayed at the position — perhaps he would have ended up No. 4 or 5 on this list. Incidentally, had Bowden qualified for this grouping, that’s where he would have ended up, but he only attempted 79 career passes.
7. Maxwell Smith (2011-13)
Key stats: 60.1% completions, 3,070 yards, 21 TDs, 9 INTs
Smith saw the majority of the QB snaps for 3 non-bowl teams. He was the throwing half of the tandem with Jalen Whitlow in 2012 and 2013. Smith had some excellent passing games but did have some arm injuries that kept him from playing more or more efficiently.
6. Patrick Towles (2012-15)
Key stats: 56.3% completions, 5,099 yards, 24 TDs, 24 INTs, 353 rushing yards, 11 rushing TDs
Towles was a hard guy to rank, because his best season was his sophomore campaign in 2014, when he had 2,718 yards and with 14 TDs against 9 INTs. He struggled in his junior season and ultimately transferred to Boston College after the year.
5. Mike Hartline (2007-10)
Key stats: 61.2% completions, 5,680 yards, 38 TDs, 25 INTs
Hartline had an interesting career. He spent a year as a backup, a year as a game manager, was having a good junior season when he suffered a season-ending injury and then was superb as a senior. He led UK to a bowl in 2010 with 3,178 passing yards, 23 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. He’s the most recent passer to have 3,000 yards in a season for UK.
4. Stephen Johnson (2016-17)
Key stats: 57.5% completions, 4,342 yards, 23 TDs, 12 INTs, 702 rushing yards, 8 TDs
Johnson was a JUCO afterthought who ended up leading the Wildcats to consecutive 7-win seasons. A scrambler who still threw a nice deep ball, Johnson had some tremendously uneven passing games, but he was a solid leader who made many of his best plays in the closing moments of games. He was probably better than his numbers.
3. Terry Wilson (2018-)
Key stats: 66.6% completions, 2249 yards, 13 TDs, 8 INTs, 591 rushing yards, 5 TDs
Wilson was tasked with being a game manager in 2018 and had his season ended in the second game in 2019. For all of that, he’s 12-3 as a starter at Kentucky — the kind of stat that nobody in Lexington has sniffed since Babe Parilli. He won in The Swamp, something a UK quarterback hadn’t done since 1979. He won 10 games in a season, something a UK quarterback hadn’t done since 1977. He hit a game-winning touchdown pass on an untimed down, and kept many drives alive with his elusiveness. Can he improve on intermediate and deep throws? If so, he might move up this list.
2. Jared Lorenzen (2000-03)
Key stats: 56.9% completions, 10,354 yards, 78 TDs, 41 INTs, 283 rushing yards, 12 TDs
Lorenzen, whose untimely passing is still mourned in Lexington, was one of a kind, a force of nature with a cannon for an arm. He threw for more than 500 yards in a game, set numerous UK records (including career yards), and did most of that while outweighing some of his offensive linemen. He basically did everything except play in a bowl game — his one winning season (2002) was when UK was on probation. So many of his best plays were on the losing end of games … but if you saw him, you’ll never forget him.
1. Andre Woodson (2004-07)
Key stats: 61.9% completions, 9,360 yards, 79 TDs, 25 INTs
Woodson was very much a player whose career arc showed steady progress. As a redshirt freshman in 2004, he showed flashes of skill but didn’t play a lot. In 2005, he very much resembled Mike Hartline in 2008 — a little slow, a little mechanical, mixing up good plays and bad ones pretty evenly. But in 2006, the light went on. Woodson’s 2006 and 2007 seasons — beside both ending in Music City Bowl victories and 8-win seasons — are as good as any in UK history.
Between those years, he passed for 7,224 yards and 71 touchdowns. He set the (since-broken) SEC record for TD throws with 40 in 2007. He also engineered wins over Georgia, LSU, Clemson, Florida State, and Louisville — the last providing an iconic moment when he found Stevie Johnson for a winning pass in the last minute of an upset of a Top 10 Louisville team.
Woodson remains Kentucky’s career leader in touchdown passes with 79, 1 more than Lorenzen and 5 more than Tim Couch.