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We probably won’t officially know who UK’s starting quarterback for the first game of the 2021 season will be until the end of fall camp. Over the course of the next week, the Herald-Leader is breaking down the cases for why each scholarship quarterback on the Wildcats’ roster could, or could not, be this year’s starter. Next up, Joey Gatewood.
Some background: Gatewood was a top-50 prospect in the 2018 recruiting class who originally signed with Auburn over Alabama, Clemson and Florida. He enrolled at UK in January 2020 after leaving Auburn midway through the 2019 season. In two years at Auburn, Gatewood played in seven games, totaling three rushing touchdowns and 148 yards on 29 carries while going 5-for-7 for 54 yards and two TDs as a passer. He made his first college start in place of an injured Terry Wilson last season; he rushed for 23 yards and completed 15 of 25 passes for 91 yards in UK’s 14-3 loss to Georgia. Gatewood in a total of seven appearances for the Wildcats is 17-of-35 for 109 yards with an interception and has rushed for 62 yards on 25 carries.
Why Joey? Physically, Gatewood appears to be an ideal candidate for an coordinator whose scheme is based around that of an offense he spent watching Jared Goff run the last three seasons. Gatewood is the tallest (6-foot-5) quarterback on the roster, and matches Will Levis in the weight department (he’s a pound lower at 221; Levis is an inch shorter). Mark Stoops recently shared with 247Sports that Gatewood didn’t throw a single interception in more than 500 passes during the spring; take spring for what it is, but anything approaching that level of accuracy would be a boon for any offense, but especially one undergoing the kind of overhaul that UK is. Liam Coen is the fourth offensive coordinator under whom Gatewood has played in as many years of college football; at this point there’s little Gatewood hasn’t had to try and learn.
Why not? Gatewood was unable to inspire much confidence in his only start as a Wildcat last season, but also wasn’t asked to do much then or in his limited appearances as a reserve in Eddie Gran’s final season. The offense, which in recent years became handcuffed to speed at the quarterback position, is to blame for some of that, but it was also an offense the staff had to have felt Gatewood was comfortable running, and that just never really seemed like the case. Coen’s arrival offers a path to redemption, but was also, essentially, bundled with the addition of Levis, with whom Coen had a pre-existing relationship. It doesn’t mean Gatewood can’t win the job, but if the two are considered more or less equal coming out of fall camp, to whom would a tie go — the existing transfer endorsed by a previous coordinator or the new guy picked by the current one?
Jeff Drummond, CatsIllustrated/Rivals: If you’re going by the “eyeball test,” Gatewood still looks like the monster recruit that signed with Auburn a couple of years ago. It’s impossible not to see the Cam Newton physical comparisons. Word has it he was very good this spring, especially with his touch going down the field. If he doesn’t win the job, I think the old bugaboo of accuracy will be the culprit.
Jon Hale, Courier Journal: Mark Stoops heaped praise on Gatewood for his performance in spring practice at SEC Media Days. A standout spring was important for his development after failing to impress in limited action last season. His arm strength makes him the leader among the returning quarterbacks.
Nick Roush, Kentucky Sports Radio: Splitting reps with Beau Allen this spring, Gatewood exceeded expectations under his third different offensive coordinator in three seasons. He showed hesitancy to let it rip in limited snaps last fall, but not in the spring of 2021, pushing the ball downfield vertically and putting himself in position to win the competition this summer.
Derek Terry, The Cats Pause/247Sports: Joey Gatewood moved ahead of Beau Allen this spring and made nice strides over 15 fall practices. Coen seemed satisfied with the improvements made by Gatewood and he’ll have the opportunity to compete head to head with Will Levis this fall. Perhaps Coen will ultimately be more comfortable with the guy he worked with during the spring.