LEXINGTON, Ky. — The Wildcats are in the middle of their preparations for South Carolina and offensive players and coaches were available to talk after Tuesday’s practice.
Kickoff against the Gamecocks is set for 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium and the game will be broadcast on SEC Network. Here’s what you need to know from the latest round of interviews.
What we learned
- Junior QB Stephen Johnson is “the guy,” said offensive coordinator Eddie Gran. All signs pointed to Johnson starting in the wake of sophomore Drew Barker’s back injury, and this confirms it. Barker wasn’t at practice Tuesday and Johnson took his spot behind the podium. Injured players aren’t allowed to talk to the media, per UK’s policy.
- Johnson expected to fight for the starting job in fall camp, but there didn’t seem to be an open competition with Barker. Johnson was asked about not being able to compete for that spot: “I don’t think it was hard to stay motivated,” he said. “Just to be as motivated as I already was, if not more to try and win the spot if I could. I don’t think I could be any more motivated than I already was.”
- Quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw said Johnson had a bad habit of “dropping the ball.” This caused a slower release but Johnson said he’s kicked the habit and feels good about his motion.
- Gran was asked if the quarterback run game would be a focal point with Johnson’s dual-threat capabilities. Here’s what he said: “No. Our whole offense is based on that. Our whole offense is based on that, even with Drew in there. Absolutely.” It didn’t look to be based on that with Barker being more of a pocket passer, but the option for the quarterback to keep on reads was there, it just wasn’t used. Look for Johnson to pull the ball a little more and use his legs.
- Gran was in a good mood Tuesday after hanging 62 on Saturday. Asked to grade freshman RB Benny Snell’s four touchdown performance? “I think he was a good solid B,” Gran said. Hard to imagine how many times it takes to find the end zone for an A.
- Gran and Will Muschamp coached with each other at Auburn in 2006-07, and Gran had a nice anecdote on his relationship with the South Carolina coach. “The one thing I always remembered about Will was his competitiveness and how he loves football,” Gran said. “The other thing about Will was you have loyal friends in this business, and when we got let go at Auburn there was one guy that called me every week when I did not have a job. He was one of them. I had about two or three guys that would call me, ask me, ‘How you doing?’ Will Muschamp called me on a weekly basis.
What we need to know
- The staff won’t elaborate on Barker’ injury, but just how bad is it? He wasn’t at practice today and there’s no timetable for his return. Coach Mark Stoops called Barker’s back problem “chronic” during his Monday press conference. Johnson is the guy this week, and he looks to be the guy for the foreseeable future.
Watch: Stephen Johnson interview
Quote of the day
“I always try to play as hard as I can, give it all I got, but I know I can’t make stupid mistakes. Like trying to run over 250-pound linebackers.” — Stephen Johnson
- Barker was not at practice today. He’s scheduled to meet with a specialist Wednesday for his back.
- Gran said senior RB Jojo Kemp is back this week. Kemp was held out of the New Mexico State game.
Other news you need to know
- Stoops said it would take a “miraculous recovery” for Barker to play against South Carolina.
- Five keys for UK on Saturday.
- South Carolina player calls Commonwealth Stadium “a weird place to play.”
- Stephen Johnson likes to scramble, but taking big hits is a concern.
- Game time announced for Kentucky at Alabama.