With Joey Gatewood finally in, will Terry Wilson be out at Kentucky?
After a lengthy offseason of waiting, the sudden announcement came down that Joey Gatewood, sophomore Auburn QB transfer, is eligible immediately for Kentucky moving forward.
The NCAA and/or SEC had been decidedly tardy in ruling on Gatewood’s eligibility and rumors that Gatewood was being essentially held out of the Auburn game as “gentleman’s agreement” with AU were met with disbelief after the open of the week came and went without word on Gatewood. Maybe there was an agreement (and I was assured by people very close to the situation that there was) or maybe there wasn’t (although the timing is suggestive), but in any case, Gatewood is good to go.
The questions now are: Will he go and if so, when?
Mark Stoops was pretty quiet through fall camp about his plans for Gatewood. How will he fit in at Kentucky? Gatewood was among the top dual-threat QBs out of high school in 2018. The Cam Newton comparisons were patently unfair, but he played well in the Auburn spring game in 2019 (8-for-12, 130 yards, 2 TD) and was essentially bracketed with Bo Nix throughout much of fall camp before Nix won the job.
Gatewood rushed for 176 yards on 32 carries for Auburn and went 5-for-8 passing off the bench for 54 yards and 2 scores before he decided to transfer. His credentials are excellent, and in his brief moments of playing time (admittedly, mostly against inferior opponents or guys deep on the depth charts), he has looked good.
But what about Terry Wilson? Wilson is 12-4 as the starting QB at Kentucky, but he also had a woefully inconsistent first week to the 2020 season against Auburn. While Gatewood does not have the history with Kentucky’s linemen and receivers that Wilson can claim, he also would hopefully avoid 2 costly turnovers like Wilson had in Week 1 as well as several mental mistakes from Wilson that helped doom the Wildcats.
At most positions on Kentucky’s roster, competition is a given. Senior running back A.J. Rose is a near All-SEC level player. But with speedster Kavosiey Smoke and bruiser Chris Rodriguez behind him, Kentucky splits snaps between the backs, giving each a shot and trying to ride the hot hand late in the game. Obviously, virtually every team rotates wide receivers, but Kentucky also has shown a tendency to rotate even offensive and defensive linemen.
The quarterback position has been different. Any shuffling of quarterbacks under Mark Stoops has been more related to inefficiency or injury than a desire for 2 more-or-less equal players to see snaps. QB issues scuttled Kentucky’s 2015 season and threatened the 2017 season, before Drew Barker’s injury basically handed the job to Stephen Johnson. Even last season, the “will he or won’t he” aspect of injured backup Sawyer Smith was a major question until it was clear that Lynn Bowden would play as many snaps as possible at quarterback.
As I said in a previous column, whether it was reasonable to consider pulling Wilson (before Gatewood’s status change) depended in part on what Kentucky wanted from its quarterbacks. Wilson has been efficient and occasionally spectacular as a guy who can run an offense that’s 65-35 run-heavy and features a fair number of QB scrambles and short passes. He showed some of those skills again in the Auburn game. But Wilson has struggled when Kentucky has looked to him to pass 40 times per game or to make up-tempo offensive decisions. If that’s the focus, there’s virtually no reason Gatewood shouldn’t see snaps.
It would be surprising if Wilson doesn’t see the first snaps Saturday against Ole Miss. But it’ll be very interesting to see if Eddie Gran and Mark Stoops have either game-planned for Gatewood to see a few series in the first half, or to see if any mishaps or a slow start result in a move at the QB position. While it’s long given that the backup QB is one of the most popular players on campus (because of the inevitable fan tendency to look over the starter’s shoulder), Kentucky hasn’t had too many backup QBs quite like Joey Gatewood. How and whether they use him may have a large part in defining the 2020 season.