Depth at quarterback and running back? No problem. Kentucky’s spring proved the Wildcats have more than one option at their most high-profile offensive positions.
Second-stringers Gunnar Hoak (pictured above) and Sihiem King stood out in the Blue team’s 31-14 victory in the Blue-White game, and coach Mark Stoops said after the game that their performance demonstrates the Wildcats’ improved depth.
“I think we’re definitely better. We’re deeper than we have been,” Stoops said.
King, a junior, starred on the ground with 107 yards and two touchdowns. Hoak, a redshirt freshman, was 16-of-24 for 174 yards and two touchdowns.
Hoak’s performance came against Kentucky’s second-stringers, so Stoops emphasized that fans shouldn’t get carried away. But he said Hoak showed he’s making progress.
“He’s been very poised. You see he’s effortless at times,” Stoops said. “And I just like the way he handles himself back there. He throws a very catchable football. He’s very accurate. The more experience he gets, the better he looks.”
By contrast, starting quarterback Stephen Johnson had a rough outing. He faced a lot of pressure and was just 8-of-18 for 106 yards, throwing an interception.
“I didn’t think we were efficient with the first group. We could’ve been better there, but at the end of the day I thought execution was OK,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said.
Quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw said Johnson got “greedy” on some of his attempts, and the quarterback agreed.
“The throws that I was trying to make today, I wasn’t trying to do the entire spring,” Johnson said. “So, I mean, I tried to do a little bit too much.”
Starting running back Benny Snell Jr. played sparingly, finishing with 22 yards and a touchdown on three carries.
“We just grew as a team that I could tell over the whole spring in general, and a lot of guys got to show what they could do in this game, too,” Snell said. “So I just feel overall it was good for everybody.”
Stoops expressed concern about the offensive line’s performance against the pass rush. The Wildcats are still working to stabilize a line that lost four-year starting center Jon Toth to graduation.
“I could feel that pressure and that’s a good thing for the defense, but offensively we got to clean it up a little bit,” Stoops said.
The combined offensive lines allowed seven sacks under the modified rules of the spring game, in which quarterbacks were considered sacked with two-hand contact.
On defense, two redshirt freshmen emerged at linebacker. Jamar Watson had three of the Wildcats’ seven sacks, and Jamin Davis led the team with eight tackles.
“He’s a guy that takes the game very serious,” Stoops said of Davis. “He works at it, he’s gaining weight, he’s getting stronger.”
One familiar face who didn’t appear in the spring game was junior linebacker Jordan Jones. Stoops said he was held out of action after missing a team meeting.
Now, the focus shifts to the fall for a Wildcats team that finished 7-6 last season and ended a five-year bowl drought.
“We still have a ways to go in certain areas, but I like this team,” Stoops said. “There’s certainly fewer question marks coming out of spring than in years past.”
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