Kentucky to challenge Alabama football with running quarterbacks Terry Wilson, Joey Gatewood

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

Kentucky’s offense struggles – tied for 90th in the nation in yards per play – are largely responsible for its 3-4 record thus far. Offensive lowlights have coincided with losses: 145 yards and 229 yards in the Wildcats’ most recent losses to Missouri and Georgia.

When Kentucky has found offense, the quarterback run has played a role.

The 2020 Wildcats have become known for their defense, arguably the best in the SEC, but they will also bring a pair of mobile quarterbacks, Terry Wilson and Joey Gatewood, to Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday to face No. 1 Alabama.

“When the quarterback can run it makes it like wildcat. There’s always an extra gap because you don’t really account for the quarterback in most basic things that you do on defense,” UA coach Nick Saban said. “They do a good job of formations, they make you make a lot of adjustments. You have to stay gap-sound in everything you do and you have to have enough guys in the box to account for the quarterback.

"I don’t think we’ve played anyone this year that the quarterback actually sort of does or they have as many quarterback runs as these guys are capable of.”

UK quarterback Terry Wilson runs the ball for a first down during the University of Kentucky football game against Vanderbilt at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky, on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020.

Kentucky is able to balance its rushing attack with running back Chris Rodriguez Jr., currently leading the SEC with 6.39 yards per carry over 88 attempts. His presence gives Kentucky quarterbacks the advantage of zone-read options when running, but in other instances, a straight-up designed quarterback run is enough.

Two of Kentucky’s three wins came in running for 187 yards on Tennessee and 308 on Vanderbilt, the latter on the way to 458 total yards. In both games, the quarterback played a role in that rushing production.

Wilson and Gatewood combined for 55 rushing yards against Tennessee, and many of those yards came in pivotal moments. An 8-yard run from Wilson put the Wildcats in field goal rangeto take a 17-0 lead. Early in the fourth quarter, a 23-yard run by Wilson was the biggest play of a seven-play touchdown drive that put the Volunteers away.

Against Vanderbilt, Wilson ran for 83 yards and a touchdown.

Alabama is likely to see much more of Wilson than it is of Gatewood, the transfer from Auburn. Most of Gatewood’s action came against Georgia, a game Wilson missed with a wrist injury.

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UA has been stingy against opposing quarterbacks on the ground this season, but it knows it is facing a different challenge this week.

“For one, up front we have to do a good job of striking the blockers and defending the run and trying to make them one-dimensional,” Alabama nose guard DJ Dale said. “If we can’t do that it’s going to be a long game.”

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson