Joey Gatewood is a strong runner but might be the accurate passer Liam Coen wants running the UK offense. (UK Athletics Photo) Photo by Jacob Noger | UK Football
There seems to be a lot of excitement building in the Bluegrass for the UK Football season. There’s been a lot of anticipation concerning newcomers on offense like receiver Wan’Dale Robinson and returning players like Chris Rodriguez at running back. And every time the players mention new offensive coordinator Liam Coen they always talk about how upbeat he is and how much energy he brings to the team. Those all bode well for next year.
But one area of concern for next season’s offense is who will be the quarterback — the de facto leader of the team. If you caught my last article on Vaughtsviews.com you know that I discussed what Coen is looking for from a quarterback to successfully run his offensive scheme. If you missed it you can catch it here – https://www.yoursportsedge.com/2021/06/04/who-will-win-the-uk-quarterback-battle-in-the-fall/vaughts-views/kpeel/.
Basically, Coen said the next UK quarterback needed to be an ultra- competitor — someone who hated to lose. They should be an accurate passer with a keen mental capacity to read the opposing defense and get the offense out of bad play situations at the line of scrimmage. He also said they did not have to be an exceptional runner but it wouldn’t hurt if they could extend plays with their ability to run the ball out of the pocket. The last thing he mentioned was that they did not have to have a big arm — as in an ability to throw the ball downfield 60 or more yards in the air.
So, knowing those parameters, how do the leading candidates — Joey Gatewood and Beau Allen — stack up against that checklist? (I realize that former Nittany Lion Will Levis is also in the mix but I’ll cover that topic in the next article).
It appears that in looking at former Auburn quarterback Joey Gatewood he seems to have been more of a run threat than a pocket passer throughout his career. He is a true “dual-threat” quarterback based on looking at his brief performances at Auburn and last season’s start against Georgia. He can throw short passes fairly accurately and can get out of jams by running the ball but his ability to move around in the pocket and extend plays was not good against Georgia — although I realize it was his first start and playing against a Top 5 team is not the ideal situation to showcase a player’s abilities.
I think that he can be a serviceable quarterback in Coen’s system — which seems to rely a lot on run game misdirection to get receivers open on the backside of plays — if he can develop the ability to read defenses quickly and accurately and make better decisions in the pocket while also getting the ball out quickly to his receivers or throwing it away to avoid the sack. He did not do that well against Georgia last season.
The other player in the mix that had a full spring in UK’s new offense is Lexington Catholic product Beau Allen. Allen is intriguing because he does check off a lot of the boxes on Coen’s list. He is a true pocket passing quarterback based on his high school highlights. He seems to be an accurate passer but the thing that stood out the most to me was his pocket presence. He has an uncanny ability to move around in the pocket and extend the play to get his pass off. That’s something that I haven’t seen Gatewood do very well in any of the films of him that are available.
Allen also throws the ball consistently to a spot that allows the receiver to stay in stride while catching the ball — something that former UK quarterback Terry Wilson did not always do well and something that Joey Gatewood does not always do well based on his highlight videos.
Both players seem to be competitors based on what they have accomplished prior to their time at UK but that will really only become evident once they are in the thick of the battle.
So Joey Gatewood throws a tight spiral and has powerful arm strength but he doesn’t always move around in the pocket well. He isn’t as consistently accurate with ball placement as Beau Allen seems to be but he does look like a more powerful runner if he has to leave the pocket.
Beau Allen looks like a traditional pocket passing quarterback and not like a great athlete trying to play quarterback. He seems to have intangibles that only come from hours of working as a quarterback in a pass-first offensive system. He is not a powerful runner but does look like he could be a good runner out of the pocket if needed.
All in all, it looks like it will be a very tight battle between the two. My opinion is that Allen is better suited to be successful in the new offense long-term but Gatewood, as a junior, has more experience at the collegiate level. Knowing that Mark Stoops seems to be averse to taking risks and knowing that Gatewood has played in several SEC games before, I would have to think that Gatewood would get the opportunity to start the season and that the offense would rely heavily on the run game for the first two or three games. That would allow whoever is in the quarterback position to grow into the passing side of the offense. Long term I would think that Allen would be in the best position to be successful in the offensive style that Liam Coen runs.
Now, of course, the monkey wrench thrown into all this speculation is the appearance of former Penn State backup quarterback Will Levis on the Kentucky roster. One would have to think that since UK reached out to Levis once he entered the transfer portal — and after Coen had joined UK’s staff — that Coen is very interested in the possibility of Levis playing quarterback for UK.
In the next article, I’ll look at how well Levis checks the boxes for Liam Coen and how likely it will be that Levis can come in and win the starting job in September by beating out both Joey Gatewood and Beau Allen. Hopefully, you’ll continue to follow along.
— Keith Peel, Contributing Writer