Quarterbacks: There are a lot of them! Each week, QB Curve will keep you up to speed on the game’s most important position by putting a different SEC signal-caller in the spotlight and putting the rest of the field in perspective. Previously: Tua Tagovailoa vs. Jalen HurtsJake BentleyJordan Ta’amuDrew LockJarrett GuarantanoJoe BurrowJarrett StidhamJake FrommFeleipe Franks

QB of the Week: Terry Wilson

Typecasting: The Wild Card

After years of mediocrity behind center, 2018 was advertised as the long-awaited “Year of the Quarterback” in the SEC, a season defined by a cast of established vets and up-and-coming stars. Terry Wilson was neither: A former 3-star recruit out of Oklahoma City, he spent his first two college seasons redshirting (at Oregon, in 2016) and biding his time in the JUCO ranks (at Kansas’ Garden City Community College, in 2017). For such an unknown commodity, the top of the depth chart at Kentucky is only marginally less obscure. As of August, when the Wildcats made him the only Day 1 starter in the conference who’d yet to see the field in a D-I game, the most salient piece of information that existed about Wilson outside of his bio was that he reportedly hadn’t had a haircut since the eighth grade.

Two months in, though, it turns out that Wilson has been a better fit for his team than the vast majority of the league’s more touted QBs have for theirs, if only by not screwing things up too badly for Kentucky’s running game and — brace yourself, if you’re just catching up — top-ranked defense. Heading into the stretch run, the Wildcats are 7-1, tied for first place in the SEC East, and boast their highest AP ranking in the month of November (11th) in 41 years. In the Playoff committee rankings they debuted at No. 9. Last weekend’s wild, come-from-behind win at Missouri left them one victory from clinching their first trip to the SEC Championship Game.

After all that, Saturday’s much-hyped, nationally relevant visit from Georgia isn’t just the biggest game anyone can remember at Kentucky; it’s also the first good look most of the country (including much of SEC country) will have at the best Kentucky team in ages, or its enigmatic signal-caller, whose pedestrian stat lines have made him almost as easy to overlook in the Wildcats’ success as he was before the season. Arguably no other team in the conference or the Top 25 has relied on its quarterback less. If they’re going to make good on their dark-horse potential over the coming month, it’s time for that to change.

The good

Kentucky is a decidedly run-first outfit, leaning on junior RB Benny Snell Jr. to carry as heavy a load as any individual back in the country. Within that philosophy Wilson has been a consistent asset as a complementary back, pitching in 62 rushing yards per game before subtracting for sacks; that’s good for second on the team, considerably ahead of backup RB Asim Rose. He has 7 carries of 20-plus yards, including breakaway touchdown runs against Florida and Murray State that flashed his home-run ability if the blocking gets him to the second level.

As far as his arm goes, Wilson is more of a blank slate, which in the context of Kentucky’s offense is just fine — thanks to the defense, the Wildcats have rarely trailed this season, much less been in a position where they’ve been left with no choice but to throw their way out. Wilson has attempted fewer passes per game than any regular SEC starter except Tua Tagovailoa, who (unlike Wilson) has spent roughly a third of the season watching from the bench with an insurmountable lead. That’s by design.

But it would be a mistake to dismiss Wilson’s raw arm talent, which at times has been impressive. All by itself, his 54-yard, 3rd-and-long TD strike to Lynn Bowden Jr. at Florida should be enough to force defenses to think twice about how aggressive they want to be about stacking the box:

The Week 2 upset in The Swamp remains Wilson’s most productive game almost across the board, in terms of rushing yards (105 on 10 carries), touchdowns (2 passing, 1 rushing), yards per pass (9.4), and pass efficiency (176.8). His finest moment, though, was unquestionably last weekend’s game-winning drive at Missouri, a near-perfect two-minute drill on which Wilson started 5-for-5 passing for 85 yards and ended by finding TE C.J. Conrad for the winning score with no time on the clock.

Earlier in the fourth quarter, with Kentucky trailing 14-3, Wilson lead an extended drive that failed to yield points — he was eventually stopped short on 4th-and-2 inside the Mizzou 5-yard line — but was highlighted by one of his best downfield throws of the year, a 43-yard heave to Bowden:

Altogether, Wilson racked up more passing yards in the fourth quarter of that game alone (146) than in any of his previous four games, suggesting he’s capable of moving the offense with arm if absolutely necessary. Up to that point it just hadn’t been necessary.

The not-so-good

That’s the generous interpretation. The more straightforward angle is that, overall, Wilson’s passing skills are a liability: He’s thrown more interceptions (6) than touchdowns (4) and ranks at or near the bottom of the conference in almost every efficiency-based category. His performances against Mississippi State (8-of-14 for 71 yards), Texas A&M (12-of-19 for 54 yards*), and Vanderbilt (3-of-9 for 18 yards) are among the most forgettable of the season, betraying long stretches in each of those games where the passing game was effectively nonexistent. (*The A&M line excludes a “tap pass” to Bowden that went for a 54-yard touchdown, which heavily distorted Wilson’s output in that game; it’s not counted in the passing TD tally above, either.)

He’s quickly grown out of throws like this one, in the season opener…

… but as far as developing any kind of consistency it’s an open question from one down to the next. Wilson is only a redshirt sophomore in his first season in the program; he has plenty of time to mature mentally and physically. Still, it’s probably safe to assume he’ll never be mistaken for a draftable passer.

Even at Missouri, much of Wilson’s passing yardage came on short, easy stuff that his receivers — well, Bowden, his most reliable target, by far — turned into solid gains after the catch. Kentucky was only in that game at the end because of a Herculean effort by the defense, which held Missouri without a single first down in the second half, and a late, 67-yard punt return by Bowden, Kentucky’s only touchdown of the game prior to the final drive. On the Wildcats’ penultimate series, Wilson was picked off on what could very well have been his final attempt of the game, had the defense not responded by forcing its eighth consecutive 3-and-out on the ensuing possession. Don’t get me started on the bogus pass interference penalty against Mizzou that set up the game-winning TD pass.

It’s not for nothing that Wilson was briefly pulled in the third quarter in Columbia for backup Gunnar Hoak, a move locals had been anticipating for weeks as the passing game continued to shrivel against A&M and Vandy. Hoak didn’t do much with the opportunity, hitting just three of eight passes for 27 yards (all of it coming on a screen pass to Snell) in three series. But if UK finds itself in another slugfest with a dormant passing game, don’t be surprised if it turns to the bench in search of a spark.

The Takeaway

Kentucky put itself in the position it’s in this weekend by establishing the run and playing consistently suffocating defense; with the division suddenly at stake it’s not about to revert to the Air Raid. The Jake Fromm Rule applies equally here to both sides: Par for the course is about 20 passes, and the higher either quarterback goes above that number the worse the implications are for his team. The further below par, the better.

Barring multiple non-offensive touchdowns and/or a career-defining afternoon from Snell, though, at some point Wilson will have to make some plays with his arm, whether it’s to keep Georgia’s safeties honest while attempting to grind out first downs (see the win over Florida) or to rally the Wildcats from a second-half deficit (see the win over Missouri); doubts about his ability to do that are the main reason they’re 10-point underdogs in Vegas with even longer odds elsewhere. It’s no coincidence that the ‘Cats’ only loss (at Texas A&M) and only down-to-the-wire victory (at Mizzou) are also the only two games in which Snell has been relatively held in check.

So far, Georgia’s run defense has lagged well behind last year’s pace, having been pounded in its last two games for 275 yards rushing on 5.4 per carry by LSU and 170 yards on 4.6 per carry by Florida. If Kentucky can hit the latter number, it has a fighting chance at an historic upset, one that stands to elevate the program’s reputation for years to come. But it can’t get there if the Bulldogs don’t respect Wilson’s arm, or if he fails to make them pay for their lack of it.

Matthew Stafford Arm of the Week: Feleipe Franks

Franks didn’t have his best game in Florida’s loss to Georgia, by a long shot, but his 36-yard, safety-splitting, go-ahead touchdown strike to Freddie Swain early in the second half easily ranks among his best throws:

It’s no secret that Franks has a big arm, but when he serves up a white-hot reminder like that it’s hard not to be frustrated that they’re so few and far between. Aside from that pass he was just 12-of-20 for 79 yards.

QB Curve Power Hour!

Ranking the league’s starting quarterbacks heading into Week 10.

1. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama. Tua told reporters this week that his ailing knee is “100 percent” coming off the Crimson Tide’s open date, which given his statistical extravagance this season seems like kind of a pedestrian percentage. How does this affect his pace for breaking the FBS record for joint health? Shouldn’t it be like a thousand percent? It’s almost enough to make Bama fans consider feigning concern. (Last Week: 1)

2. Jake Fromm, Georgia. Last week I highlighted Fromm’s struggles on third down over the first half of the season; he responded against Florida by completing 5-of-6 third-down attempts with 5 conversions and 3 touchdowns. There’s still a part-time role for Justin Fields in the zone-read game, but not beyond that. (LW: 5)

3. Jordan Ta’amu, Ole Miss. Chart time! Coming off an open date, Ta’amu continues to fare better than expected in the weekly tale of the tape, based on a combination of pass efficiency, Total QBR, total yards, and individual share of the team’s total offense:

Ta’amu’s tenure as QB1 has been overshadowed from the start by the disappointment that came with the mass exodus of Shea Patterson, et al. in the aftermath of NCAA sanctions. But Ole Miss fans only have a month left with one of the most prolific passers in school history at the controls and ought to enjoy it while they can. (LW: 2)

4. Kellen Mond, Texas A&M. Mond turned in his worst outing of the season in the Aggies’ loss at Mississippi State, capped by a terrible pick into traffic to effectively seal the defeat. But he didn’t get a lot of help from an uncharacteristically butterfingery group of receivers, either: Four different Aggies dropped at least one pass on the night. (LW: 4)

5. Drew Lock, Missouri. I harp too much on the big, all-or-nothing split in Lock’s performance vs. the top half of Mizzou’s schedule relative to the bottom half, but a low-scoring loss to Kentucky only drives the point home: Against non-winning teams (.500 or worse), the Tigers are 9-0 over the past two years and average 50.3 points per game. Against winning teams, they’re 0-10 and average 19.6 points. (LW: 3)

6. Joe Burrow, LSU. The Tigers haven’t topped 17 points against Alabama since 2010, but in last year’s game they certainly had their opportunities. If Burrow can connect downfield where Danny Etling couldn’t, his mission in Baton Rouge will be largely complete. (LW: 6)

7. Jarrett Stidham, Auburn. It was about this point on the calendar last year that Sitdham caught fire, putting the torch to Texas A&M, Georgia, and Alabama en route to SEC title game. Atlanta’s out of reach this time around, but the draft isn’t: Another solid November against the meat of the Tigers’ schedule could still do wonders for his stock. (LW: 7)

8. Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt. Shurmur just joined Greg Zolman (1999-2001) as the only Vanderbilt quarterbacks to pass for at least 2,000 yards in three seasons. Given the Commodores’ track record at the position in the meantime, it’s an achievement just to hold down the job in three seasons. (LW: 10)

9. Jake Bentley, South Carolina. At this point in his career it’s clear Bentley’s not about to start putting up the kind of eye-opening numbers his initial production as a freshman suggested. But man, every so often he still throws a beautiful deep ball. (LW: 9)

10. Feleipe Franks, Florida. As conservative as Franks has been to this point in his career, becoming more comfortable with taking downfield shots is a significant step in his development. Next up: Actually hitting them. (LW: 8)

11. Jarrett Guarantano, Tennessee. Coaches continue to praise Guarantano’s toughness, which is well and good. It would be nice, though, if at some point the Vols’ offensive line gave him a chance to show off some of his other qualities. (LW: 11)

12. Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State. Fitzgerald rebounded from his rock-bottom night at LSU to post his best game of the season against Texas A&M, a turnaround that re-established his status as the Bulldogs’ starter and earned him a nod as SEC Offensive Player of the Week. If only every opponent could be the Aggies he’d be in the running for the Heisman. (LW: 12)

13. Terry Wilson, Kentucky. The fourth quarter at Mizzou showed Wilson is more capable as a passer than he’s shown in almost any other game this season. Now if only he can do it before it comes down to the last resort. (LW: 13)

14. Ty Storey, Arkansas. Saturday’s loss to Vanderbilt officially killed whatever slim hopes the Razorbacks had of sneaking into a bowl game, prompting Storey to write a fitting epitaph for the season: “Losing sucks.” (LW: 14)