LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Mark Stoops offered a lengthy defense of former starter and current backup quarterback Drew Barker during the coach’s Monday news conference.
While Stephen Johnson completed 15 of 22 passes for 224 yards, rushed for 48 yards, produced two touchdowns and no turnovers on Saturday — while guiding Kentucky to a closer-than-expected victory over Eastern Kentucky — Barker completed 1 of 2 passes for 5 yards and presided over a pair of possessions that ended in quick punts during a brief relief appearance.
“I’m very happy that we inserted him into that game in the situation that we did, under some pressure,” Stoops said. “You have to get those quality reps. His play, I have to defend him just like I defend Stephen. It’s a lot of people around him. You don’t need to go in there and get a penalty on a screen pass and get a holding penalty on the first [possession for Barker]. And then protection issues. Give him some options on third down.”
On Barker’s first play since Week 3 of last season, Barker completed a 7-yard pass that was wiped out by a holding call. He was sacked on third-and-8. His second and final possession at the helm started with a false start, then a 2-yard run by freshman A.J. Rose, then a 5-yard completion. Again, he was sacked on third-and-8.
“There’s not many quarterbacks that are very effective on third-and-long when you’re not getting great, great protection,” Stoops said. “We have a guy [Rose] that hasn’t played college football yet and has a run that couldn’t possibly be set up any better — and we miss it. We bounced it outside instead of hitting it up inside or it’s a huge gain. We get in third-and-long again and the same back — that’s gonna be fine, who hadn’t played yet — gets completely blown up on a blitz. We get no time to throw the ball.”
Stoops went on to note that Johnson came back in on the next series and almost suffered the exact same fate, getting sacked on third-and-long.
“Bailed out by a facemask,” Stoops said, referring to a 15-yard penalty on that play to keep alive a drive that jump-started Johnson and the offense. The next two plays were a 27-yard completion and 23-yard touchdown toss. “Everybody forgets that.”
So while the starting job seems to be settled — Johnson is now 9-3 as Kentucky’s QB in the regular season — it’s clear Stoops and the staff still believe in Barker as a viable option, despite the disparity in game production.