LEXINGTON, Ky. — There’s no guarantee, and little evidence, that flashy spring game performances transfer into the regular season, but they might do a lot in the way of confidence.
Blue topped White 31-14 in Kentucky’s spring game Friday night, but the score was an afterthought compared to a few individual performances.
Here were the 3 Wildcats who showed out in the spring game.
1. QB Gunnar Hoak
There’s no controversy atop the quarterback depth chart, but Hoak made a competitive case for the No. 2 job. Hoak outperformed Stephen Johnson and the redshirt freshman did most of his damage against Kentucky’s first-team defense.
Hoak completed 16 of 24 passes for 174 yards and 2 touchdowns. He scrambled for 10 yards and another touchdown.
“That would help any quarterback’s confidence, to go out there and have a good day,” Hoak said. “I just gotta keep going. Gotta keep rising.”
Quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw said he wanted at least 3 quarterbacks who could win games come the fall, and he believes he has the trio with Johnson, Hoak and Drew Barker. Hoak’s performance on Friday solidified the thought.
“That’s what I’ve seen from Gunnar all spring,” Hinshaw said. “He’s a quiet guy. He’s not a guy that comes out and is very vocal. He doesn’t say a lot, but he is really doing a good job of doing what I tell him to do, understanding the offense and he went out today and made a lot of good throws.”
Although Johnson is all but guaranteed to open the season as Kentucky’s starting quarterback, he said Hoak has been pushing him. And Hoak didn’t back down from his goal.
“Compete and try to be the starter,” Hoak said. “That’s my goal.”
2. RB Sihiem King
Sophomore starter Benny Snell was given a light workload of 3 carries and redshirt freshman A.J. Rose tallied just 3 carries as well before leaving with a neck strain. That left junior Sihiem King with 19 carries, more than he totaled all of last season.
“I was dead, but I tried not to show it,” King said. “I love getting the ball that many times.”
And he was effective. King rushed for a game-high 107 yards and averaged 5.6 yards per carry. He found the end zone twice.
After the game, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said the game plan was dialed back, and that more is in the works for King.
“You can see he can make people miss,” Gran said. “He squirts out of some stuff. Gotta get him going north and south.”
King’s elusiveness can even surprise himself.
“Sometimes I get myself like, ‘Oh wow, how’d I do that?’ Everything just happens so fast, and I try to play fast,” King said.
Snell is a between-the-tackles bulldozer, while King’s scatback style often takes him outside the tackles. He showed shades of Boom Williams on Friday. Williams was the ideal complement to Snell, and King could play a similar role.
“His explosiveness, his shiftiness is really similar to Boom’s,” Johnson said. “To have him do that like he did tonight was really, really phenomenal.”
3. LB Jamar “Boogie” Watson
The man they call “Boogie” recorded a game-high 4 sacks on 6 tackles. Watson, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound outside linebacker, put on a show with his pass rushing ability. Three of his sacks came against Johnson and the first-team offense.
“I feel like Jamar really made some strides,” coach Mark Stoops said. “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. I think he’s going to be a good player.”
Juniors Josh Allen and Denzil Ware have secured the starting outside linebacker jobs, but Watson looks ready to join the rotation after redshirting last season.
“It felt real good,” Watson said. “I haven’t done that since 2015. I haven’t played a real game since high school. I was anxious to get out there and show what I can do.”