Hoak along with other reserves impress in Spring Game


Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Gunnar Hoak throws a touchdown pass during the blue white spring game at Commonwealth Stadium on Friday, April 14, 2017 in Lexington, KY. Photo by Addison Coffey | Staff.

Anthony Crawford

Friday during UK football’s Spring Game the team got to go out in front of fans and show off the fruits of its labor during the last few weeks of spring practice.

The game was largely decided in the first half, with most of the starters being benched either before halftime or not soon after, but overall the Cats’ faithful got to see a lot of excitement in the 31-14 victory for the Blue team (starters) over the White team (reserves).

“It was a good spring. It was a good spring game, mainly because we stayed healthy,” head coach Mark Stoops said. “…We got a lot of work in this spring, I was very proud of our players, their effort for a long time. We talked last summer about their capacity to handle more. Well they took a lot of coaching for a long time.”

The biggest takeaway of the game goes to quarterback Gunnar Hoak, who started for the reserves on the White team before closing the game playing a series for the Blue. Hoak went a combined 16-for-24 in the game as he threw for 174 yards and two touchdowns.

Initially the great play from Blue quarterback Stephen Johnson and running back Benny Snell put the starters up 14-0 in the first quarter, but Hoak was responsible for two scoring drives in the second that had the teams tied going into halftime. 

“All the guys on the White team go out there and say they want to win, just beat the 1’s. And that’s the mindset you have to have,” Hoak said about facing off against the first-team defense.

Stoops praised Hoak for his great play after the game, pointing out specifically his poise in the pocket.

“You see he’s effortless at times,” Stoops said of Hoak. “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.”

Hoak performance stands out in large part because of how inefficient his counterpart, Stephen Johnson, played. After developing a well-earned reputation last season for his deep ball, Johnson forced that pass too much during the game on Friday. 

“I think I got pretty greedy with some of my throws. Some throws I could have easily made but I didn’t,” Johnson said. 

Johnson had success right out of the gate with the long ball as he found Charles Walker deep to set up would be a goal line situation, but the two-hand rule brought it back as a sack on the play.

The rule is put in place to protect quarterbacks, but for a guy like Johnson, who makes a majority of his plays with his feet after escaping the pocket, it threw off his game some.

Johnson started the game throwing 6-for-8 for 91 yards in the first quarter and ended the game 2-for-10 for 15 yards and an interception in the time he did play in the second and third quarters.

On defense the two best performance came from early enrollees on the White team. Freshman linebacker Jamin Davis led the game in total tackles with eight total, including one for a loss.

“Jamin (Davis) did some good things for a puppy,” defensive coordinator Matt House said. “He showed that he can bite, so that was good.”

The other player that impressed on defense was redshirt freshman Jamar “Boogie” Watson. His impact was all over, but he left the biggest impression with the pressure he was able to get on the opposing quarterback. He finished with three sacks in the game officially, but it could have been more in a real game setting. 

“I feel like Jamar really made, again, some strides,” Stoops said of Watson. “He’s a guy that, with reps, you could see he has the ability and he has a good understanding. You heard me talk many times about the nuances of that position and I like where he’s at.”

It’s never safe to invest too much in storylines to come out of spring games, but the progress shown by young players is always welcome. Now after putting on display that progress for the fans, the team can get back to the grind going into the summer.

“So I appreciate that effort by our players,” Stoops said. “We made some strides. We still have a ways to go in certain areas, but I like this team. There’s certainly fewer question marks coming out of spring than in years past.”