Running backs shine in scrimmage

Published 9:15 am Monday, April 16, 2018

LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — The quarterback race was the supposed to be the center of attention in Kentucky’s annual Blue-White game Friday night. The running backs stole the show, at least during the first two quarters.

Benny Snell and A.J. Rose combined for 176 yards rushing and three touchdowns in the two-hour scrimmage to conclude spring workouts. The Blue team (offense) defeated the White team (defense), 45-32.

Rose, who garnered most of the workload in a pair of scrimmages during the past two weeks, rushed for 101 yards on seven carries for an average of 14.4 yards per carry in the opening half. He finished with 134 total yards and added three scores. Sihiem King did not play because of a head injury.

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“I definitely have something to prove to myself to just go out there and play,” he said. “It felt good going out there to play and just feel comfortable with everything. I felt like I was playing football again.”

Stoops was pleased with Rose’s performance.

“He took a big step,” Stoops said. “It was really important for him to come out tonight and back that up, which he did, and that’s really good to see. A.J., as I mentioned, I have a lot of confidence in his ability and what he’s been doing.”

Snell added 33 yards on six carries and ripped off a 16-yard run in the opening half.

Snell and Rose are predicted to be the team’s top two running backs next season, while Stoops and his staff have yet to settle in a starting quarterback to replace departing senior Stephen Johnson. Johnson guided the Wildcats to two consecutive bowl appearances during his stint as the team’s starting quarterback. Backup Drew Barker elected not to return and focus on academics during the remainder of his collegiate career.

Junior college transfer Terry Wilson completed 10-of-24 passes for 131 yards. Wilson threw for 78 yards in the first two quarters while alternating with Gunnar Hoak. Wilson’s longest pass was a 21-yard strike to Brett Slusher. Wilson threw an interception and was sacked once.

“The first couple of series’ I had to get the jitters out, but I felt like I did all right,” he said. “We’re just competing every day and taking it day by day. We really haven’t been trying to force anything. We’ve been going out there and playing football.”

Hoak threw for 121 yards on 14-of-25 passing. Hoak threw for 64 yards in the first half. Hoak threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Josh Ali in the third quarter. Ali caught three passes for 23 yards.

Like Wilson, Hoak is enjoying the competition that will carry over into fall camp.

“You’ve just got to go out and compete every day,” he said. “No matter what happens and you just have to get better.”

Stoops liked the way both signal callers played but isn’t ready to make a final determination on a starter for next season.

“There have been days when one has looked better than the other and vice versa,” he said. “It’s just not fair for me to say that at this point because they’re — I’d be just throwing something at the wall. They both have done some good things, and both need improvement in certain areas.”

Both quarterbacks threw to 11 different receivers. Slusher and David Bouvier paved the way, combining for seven catches and 102 yards.

Regardless of the starter, Stoops is confident either player can pick up where Johnson left off during the past two years.

“I’ve said this most of the spring, that whoever gets under center and takes the first snap that I have a lot of confidence in them,” Stoops said. “I have confidence in all these guys. You know, each of them has some strengths and some weaknesses, and we’ll make it work. We’ll make sure we build a package around them and have them have success.

Now that his sixth spring practice is in the books, Stoops is looking ahead and confident his team can build on the past two seasons.

“Overall, spring was a success,” Stoops said. “We’ve got to finish strong academically and hit that weight room. There’s no — we can’t give them very much time off. They’ve got to get back in there, get stronger, get bigger, and get ready for the next phase this summer to continue to progress.”