AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson has waited for football's return even longer than most of his Southeastern Conference brethren.
The signal-caller for the No. 23 Wildcats will take the field again Saturday at No. 8 Auburn, returning from a knee injury that cost him almost all of last season. His Tigers' counterpart in the SEC's opening weekend is Bo Nix, coming off a strong freshman season.
Both teams are banking on improved versions of their passers. Kentucky coach Mark Stoops expects an older, wiser Wilson after the additional practice repetitions.
“He missed the year and that hurts but he’s still older and wiser and has more understanding of the offense,” Stoops said.
Nix is now under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Chad Morris, a former Arkansas and SMU head man who takes over play calling duties from coach Gus Malzahn.
Nix set a number of Auburn freshman passing records, including his 2,542 yards and 16 touchdowns.
“We’re going to play to his strengths,” Malzahn said. “You look at last year, he created a lot of things on his own with the scrambles and all that and the decision-making. He is a run threat, too. So we’re going to play to his strengths and rely on him a lot.”
Nix & Co. didn't have a spring practice to start mastering Morris's offense, but he said he's far ahead of where he was entering the Oregon opener last season.
“I think coach Morris will do a really good job with the play getting it to where he allows me to be myself and he allows me to do the things that I’m good at,” Nix said.
Wilson has completed 66.6% of his career passes for 2,249 yards and 13 touchdowns while rushing for 591 yards and five scores. He's 12-3 as a starter but was injured in the second game last season.
Wide receiver-turned-quarterback Lynn Bowden Jr. took over and led what became a prolific running offense before leaving to enter the NFL draft.
Now, Wilson is back running the show.
Some other things to know about Saturdays Kentucky-Auburn matchup:
FACING TOP 10
Kentucky hasn’t beaten a top 10 SEC team on the road since topping No. 1 Mississippi in 1964. They haven’t beaten a Top 10 team since No. 10 South Carolina a decade ago.
The crowd will be small because of COVID-19, but Auburn is hoping it will be loud. Most of the 17,490 fans allowed to attend at Jordan-Hare Stadium will be Auburn students.
Kentucky has the nation’s top punter in Max Duffy, who won the Ray Guy Award last season. He led the FBS with a 48.1-yard average last season. Auburn starts either Australian Oscar Chapman or Aidan Marshall, who started the 2018 opener, ultimately left the team and then returned for this season.
Kentucky has a sizable edge in returning experience on both lines of scrimmage. Auburn is replacing four starters on the offensive line and lost defensive linemen Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson to the NFL. Wildcats offensive linemen Landon Young and Drake Jackson were preseason first-team All-SEC picks by the media, while Darian Kinnard is a second-teamer.
“If you look at both their offense and defensive line, that’s some of their strengths,” Malzahn said. “They got most of their guys back. Of course, we lost most of our guys on the offensive front and defensive front. So that’s going to be a challenge.”
Caylin Newton is listed on Auburn's depth chart as a backup to wide receiver Shedrick Jackson. Newton is the younger brother of New England Patriots quarterback and 2010 Auburn Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton. He transferred from Howard, where he played quarterback and was the 2018 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference MVP.
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