For the first time in three decades the Kentucky Wildcats enter Florida week and don’t have to answer questions about a losing streak. Unfortunately for Mark Stoops and his Wildcats there’s a new pervasive line of question about his football team this week.
How do you replace Terry Wilson? Who is Sawyer Smith? How does your offense change with a new quarterback?
Wilson led the Wildcats to their first 10-win season since 1977 and was on his way to a 2-0 start in 2019 before a left knee injury in the second half of a win over Eastern Michigan ended his season. Wilson started all 13 games in 2018. He completed 67.2% (180-268) of his pass attempts for 1,889 yards 11 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He added 547 rushing yards and four scores with his legs.
“We feel very bad for our starting quarterback Terry Wilson,” Stoops said. “He’s done some very good things for us, played really well this year and was really getting comfortable but we have a lot of confidence in Sawyer Smith. He’ll be the next man up. We’re kind of anxious and excited to see him play.”
The first question is answered by the second question. Stoops is replacing Wilson with a graduate transfer from Troy University, Sawyer Smith, who has only been on campus for just more than a month. He does, however, have two years of eligibility left.
Smith is a veteran player. He played in 19 games at Troy and was the MVP of the Dollar General Bowl last year at Troy. Sawyer is from Cantonment, Florida and attended Tate High School near Pensacola. He was originally committed to UCF while still a high school recruit before winding up at Troy and now at Kentucky.
“Sawyer was looking for a fresh start and a new opportunity and to play in the Power 5. He felt like we had a good opportunity here,” Stoops said. “He knew we had a need for him at the backup position and he had a couple years to play.”
The next question is how will the offense look? Last year Wilson, despite throwing an early interception, gashed the Gators on the ground and through the air. It was his legs, in particular, that gave Florida fits. Wilson was elusive on his way to more than 100-yards rushing and a touchdown on 10 carries. Stoops contends that “nothing” about their offense will change this week against Florida but in the same breath admits Smith isn’t the same kind of runner that Wilson is.
“He’s mobile. He’s obviously not as elusive as Terry and we will certainly miss that with Terry, especially playing a team like Florida,” Stoops said. “There’s no denying that. Sawyer is very intelligent. He’s accurate. He throws the ball well down the field. He makes good decisions and quick decisions. We’ll rely on his strengths and I feel like we’re a better offense and we’re better around him this year. I feel like we’re really improving at the wide receiver position and certainly our O-line is really, really solid and we have a lot of confidence in our backs. We have to play good around him.”
The Gators will certainly dial up some pressure this week with a new quarterback at the helm in a sold out Kroger Field. The Gators lead the nation with 15 sacks but will be facing the most experienced offensive line that they’ve seen to this point. That offensive line and the players around Smith, as Stoops noted, will need to pick up the slack on Saturday or else the big question that bothered Kentucky and their football fans the past 31 years will creep back into the picture in 2020.