Kentucky football head coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Liam Coen are in no rush to make a decision on a starting quarterback, but they’ve gone out of their way to highlight the program’s depth and overall talent at the position on numerous occasions. Stoops even admitted this may be the first time the quarterback room has quality depth since he arrived in Lexington back in 2012.
“It’s more important to get it right than to be in a hurry,” Stoops said at UK Media Day on Friday. “Is there a benefit? Yes, I believe there is. There’s a benefit to getting reps. That’s part of the negative to having a lot of talented players at any position, but it seems like it’s obviously much easier to rotate guys in throughout practice and preseason at other spots than quarterback. We do feel like there is quality depth maybe for the first time. You go all the way down and have four or five guys that you feel confident that could play football at this level.”
“We have depth, absolutely. And it’s good depth,” Coen added. “Any time you have competition it’s a good problem, right?”
That good depth was on full display at the open practice portion of UK Fan Day on Saturday, with Will Levis, Joey Gatewood and Beau Allen all competing at the top of the depth chart for the starting quarterback position in front of fans and media members. The good news? After knocking off some early rust – it’s to be expected on day two of fall camp – all three performed at a high level, each showing off their best traits as SEC-caliber quarterbacks.
Gatewood started the day taking first team reps, with Allen and Levis rotating in behind the second-year Wildcat in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 action. He took the role in stride, going through his progressions and finding open targets while avoiding taking any major risks. He did, however, throw the lone interception of the live period, with cornerback Carrington Valentine snagging a ball intended for Tae Tae Crumes over the middle and returning it for a touchdown the other direction. The sophomore defensive back hit Gatewood with a Dikembe Mutombo finger wag and shouted “I told you he was gonna throw it!” on his way to the opposite end zone.
Take away the lone miscue, and it was a very solid day for the junior quarterback, who showed off solid arm strength, mobility and awareness in the pocket.
Despite Gatewood technically starting with the first unit, Levis ended the day picking up the majority of reps with the starters, growing confidence with every throw after a relatively shaky start. His two biggest highlights of the day came on a botched snap that resulted in a deep over-the-shoulder touchdown grab in the end zone by Josh Ali, followed by a scramble and deep dart down the right sideline for a tough grab near the goal line by Rahsaan Lewis, both plays 40-plus yards from scrimmage. Levis was praised for his pure arm talent upon joining the Kentucky football program, and it was certainly on full display in his first appearance as a Wildcat in a live setting.
TOP PLAYS from @UKFootball‘s Fan Day:
— Alex Walker (@AlexWalkerTV) August 7, 2021
To round out the trio of standouts, Allen doesn’t have the pure arm talent Levis or Gatewood have, but he regularly makes the right reads and hits his marks in the intermediate level. If you need a quarterback capable of inching down the field for long, sustained possessions with dinks and dunks, Allen just may be your guy. As accurate as he is anywhere between the line of scrimmage and 20 yards out, his deep balls die out a bit and accuracy takes a hit going downfield, limiting home run opportunities for an offense that has been craving just that in recent years.
The biggest takeaway regarding quarterback play – as Stoops and Coen both drove home on Media Day – is that the talent is there across the board and Kentucky has the personnel to find a high-level quarterback capable of thriving in the SEC immediately. The question comes down to what you’re looking for in said quarterback and fit within the offense. All three can contribute to winning football, with Levis and Gatewood bringing the arm talent and versatility and Allen providing the intermediate accuracy.
The eye test would lead you to believe Levis has the upper hand to open fall camp – rumblings throughout the summer upon the Penn State transfer’s arrival in Lexington indicated this, as well – but it’s not because the other options are falling short. For the first time during Stoops’ time at Kentucky, the Wildcats have quality depth in the quarterback room.