Even though Kentucky was 8-4 with Stephen Johnson at quarterback heading into today, some fans were still clamoring for Drew Barker. Not anymore.
Johnson started the game 7-9, but for some reason, the coaching staff pulled him out and put Barker in to start the second quarter. It did not go well. Over two series, Barker was 1-2 for 5 yards. After undergoing back surgery last year, Barker’s reentry to live game action was rough; he was sacked twice for a loss of 15 yards. Mercifully, the staff put Johnson back in to close the half, and he responded, swiftly leading Kentucky down the field for a touchdown. Here are his stats in the first half compared to Drew’s:
|Stephen Johnson||12-18||140 yards||1 TD||0 INT|
|Drew Barker||1-2||5 yards||0 TD||0 INT|
In a surreal first half, the decision to go to Drew was the most bizarre of all; why bring him in when Johnson was doing just fine? Sure, the offense wasn’t clicking on all cylinders, but that’s in part due to Benny Snell going to the locker room with bruised ribs and the offensive line’s continued struggles. With the line performing so poorly, why mix things up even more and take out Johnson, a proven scrambler?
“We said that we were going to play [Drew] in the third series, no matter what,” Stoops said, explaining that the staff needed to see how Barker would react in a live situation. “We have to. We did the same thing last year when Stephen was the backup because you’re one play away from playing. And sure enough, Stephen was playing. We had to get Drew back out there and get his confidence up and get him playing and get him some snaps and see what he can do.”
But why do that in the second quarter when your team is losing? With fans grumbling for Barker after Southern Miss, the coaching staff needlessly fueled the quarterback controversy by putting him in so early. The only good thing to come out of it was that Drew performed so poorly and Johnson so ably that no one can suggest that Drew get the nod over Stephen ever again.
Case in point: on Johnson’s first drive back in, he didn’t flinch, covering 75 yards in 58 seconds for seven points. His throw to CJ Conrad down the middle was beautiful:
And how about his 21-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter?
Johnson finished 15-22 for 224 yards, one touchdown passing, and one rushing. He even looked good throwing long, connecting with Blake Bone for 43 yards on Kentucky’s first drive in the second half. Stoops credited the much-maligned offensive line for giving Johnson enough time to make a big play.
“It was really nice to see us — our issues in the first half on some plays was protection,” Stoops said. “Once our protection got better, you saw that in the second half, I believe it was the first possession of the second half, the double move, the long pass down the boundary, and he connected with Blake [Bone]. That was a really nice pass, but it starts with protection.”
When asked, Stoops agreed that the team rallied around Stephen in the second half, but again stressed that the offense’s improvement was due in part to a better effort from the line.
“I think they respond to him but I think it comes down to everyone doing their job too and getting some time and some protection and not getting bad snaps and things like that. Just all playing together.”
Today’s win was ugly, but if anything, it proved that Stephen Johnson is this team’s quarterback, and that’s a good thing.