The quarterback competition is a hot offseason topic for followers of Kentucky Football. There is summer speculation around the pecking order of UK’s three options for the starting role, a three-man race between returners Joey Gatewood and Beau Allen, and the big arm in Penn State transfer Will Levis.
Mark Stoops wants to keep that decision in house and he has done a pretty good job of doing so to date, but SEC Media Days are not a good place for keeping secrets. With nowhere to hide under the bright lights in Birmingham, Stoops was asked several times about the current state of his QB rotation and what he hopes to see from the eventual winner of the starting job.
The first of many quarterback decision questions came prior to taking the main SEC Media Days stage. Stoops told KSR’s Nick Roush and other reporters on site in Alabama, “There’s a lot of things that go into that decision. Bottom line is, who’s going to give us the best opportunity to win games? That’s the most important thing. How successful is the team when that person’s in there? I think each of those guys have some strengths. We’ll see when we get through camp, but ultimately it comes down to, how is the team playing when that person is in the game and how are we moving the ball?”
Once on the main stage, a radio station from St. Augustine, Florida, where Joey Gatewood played his high school football, asked a question specific to Gatewood’s progress and where he stands in the mix. Stoops replied, “Joey has been a terrific teammate, really has come in and worked hard and gotten better each day. He had a really good spring; of course, Will was not there this spring, so he and Beau Allen were battling for the starting position and Joey really had a good spring.
“Now you add Will to the mix and we have a lot to look at. It’s nice to have options. I feel very good about those three and others in our program, so we’ll see where it goes but he did have a really good spring. One of the things I was most impressed with him was, he’s a big strong guy, but he was very accurate down the field. He got the ball down the field and was accurate down the field, something we needed to improve on.”
One more for the road, the SEC Network’s Alyssa Lang asked Stoops what qualities he is looking for in his starting quarterback, whoever it is. Sitting on the network’s set with Lang and Roman Harper, Stoops said, “I’ve been asked that a lot today and it’s hard to describe. The bottom line is, the guy that gives us the best opportunity to win. Right? That’s the simple answer. But there’s a lot that goes into it.”
He added, “We had Beau Allen and Joey Gatewood in the spring, and I was impressed with both of those guys. Both of them had days where they looked really elite and they really operated the offense effectively. I was impressed by Joey. I felt like he was very accurate at getting the ball downfield, something we’re looking for. With the run game, you have to have the ability to create explosive plays down the field, and I feel like Joey was accurate, strong arm, got the ball downfield.
“Then of course Will just got here on campus and everybody around the program, the players that have been out there throwing with him, just say it’s a different type of arm; really talented, really live arm. So we will see. There will be quite a few practices in between and we have some very good options.”
Stoops wasn’t alone in navigating the quarterback questions. One of the two players UK sent with him, UK defensive end Josh Paschal also got pulled into the conversation about the other side of the ball. Paschal said in a televised SEC Network interview, “The QBs are looking good. I’ll say one thing about all of them. Every quarterback, period, in that room, they’re just so competitive and that’s what I notice. They bring that competition to the practice field each and every day.
“I know Will, he just got in this summer, but I can see that fire in him as well, just throughout workouts and him leading his group. Seeing all those quarterbacks, I’d say the big piece they all have is that spirit of competition.”
In summary, UK escaped SEC Media Days without revealing too much. The QB battle and the conversations around it will resume with the beginning of fall camp the first week of August.