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ESPN writer wonders about Kentucky’s offense under Stephen Johnson


It’s hard to imagine anyone but Stephen Johnson starting at quarterback in Kentucky’s first game of the 2017 season, a road game at Southern Miss. Last season turned around once Johnson stepped in to take the reins from the injured Drew Barker and he was outstanding in the upset of Louisville in the final game of the season.

But there are still concerns with Johnson at QB, writes ESPN’s David Ching, who sees a one-dimensional offense under Johnson’s guidance. Ching watched Friday night’s Blue-White game and believes the Wildcats could struggle without a drop-back passer.

An excerpt from Stephen Johnson’s passing struggles create summertime questions for Kentucky:

Johnson held onto the ball for too long, missed wide-open receivers for potential big gains and tossed an ugly interception just before halftime that helped the White team — a collection of reserves — tie the score at 14 against Johnson’s Blue team, composed of starters.

The Blue eventually won 31-14, but Johnson’s struggles hardly provided much confidence that the Wildcats can be more than a one-dimensional offense with him taking the snaps. It might even open the door for a dropback passer like Drew Barker, once he returns to full health following back surgery, or Gunnar Hoak (16-for-24, 174 yards, 2 TDs, plus a 5-yard rushing score in the scrimmage), who obviously outplayed Johnson (8-for-18, 106 yards, 1 INT) on Friday, to wrestle the job away from the incumbent starter.

Kentucky did just fine in Johnson’s one-dimensional offense last year and it could once again with Benny Snell leading the way out of the backfield, but Ching thinks the Cats need significant improvement from Johnson this summer or a QB controversy may pop up.

Read more on his critique of Johnson and UK post-spring game here.

Article written by Drew Franklin

I can recite every line from Forrest Gump, blindfolded. Follow me on Twitter: @DrewFranklinKSR

26 Comments for ESPN writer wonders about Kentucky’s offense under Stephen Johnson

  1. theWilkman
    2:55 pm April 17, 2017 Permalink

    Or maybe the coaches didn’t want him rushing the ball and getting hurt, thus severely limiting his game?

    • blackmilk23
      3:02 pm April 17, 2017 Permalink

      Yes. Turn any dual threat QB into a pocket passer and they look completely washed.

  2. RackEmWillie
    2:58 pm April 17, 2017 Permalink

    I mean, he’s not wrong.

    While Johnson made a lot of great plays, there were still times when his inaccuracy and inability to hold onto the ball changed the dynamic of a game.

    He was a fine enough QB last year, especially given the circumstances surrounding his role from back-up to starter. But, fine enough is 5, 6 and 7 wins. If he became a “great” QB, that’s reaching into 10 win territory. I mean, really good QB play would have won the Southern Miss (from Barker), Georgia and Tennessee games.

    I think Johnson is a great story and an even better person. He’s one of those guys who you want to succeed even if he’s not on your team.

  3. blackmilk23
    3:01 pm April 17, 2017 Permalink

    Stephen Johnson is not good. He’s okay. What people don’t understand is that OK is the best we got. We don’t have a good SEC caliber QB on our bench. In lieu of that put the guy who has been proven to give us the best shot at wining in. That’s Johnson.

    • The Seer
      3:13 pm April 17, 2017 Permalink

      Agreed. Now, a prediction. Johnson will not end the season as the starter. I’m looking at Hoak, then Clark. Barker gives it a go but just doesn’t compete.

  4. truebluethroughandthrough
    3:27 pm April 17, 2017 Permalink

    I agree. But why is it so hard for us to get a decent QB1? I feel like we’re completely picking from crumbs…. Oh yeah, we pretty much are. What does it take to get a higher caliber player in that position? I’ve seen Johnson miss throws that a good 8th grader could make. There were a few times when he showed some great playmaking ability too, but it’s hard to look over wide open unpressured misfires.Those hurt. You can’t miss plays like some of those in the SEC…. or any conference for that matter.

    • JusSayin
      3:33 pm April 17, 2017 Permalink

      In the past even when we had very talented QBs they don’t often look that good because of the lack of talent around them. Shayne Boyd, Hartline both played in the NFL but looked pedestrian while they were here.

      Good QB are rare. No more than 15 power conference teams are completely happy with their QB. The rest of us are always looking.

  5. DelrayCat
    3:40 pm April 17, 2017 Permalink

    I completely agree. I just don’t see Johnson as an SEC caliber QB. We won games last year because of the run game and his solid game management. But to take UK to the next level, Hoak needs to be the guy. I think Johnson deserves the chance to prove me and others wrong, so he gets the early nod. But if UK struggles with him at the helm and a few early losses ensue…Stoops must move forward with our future QB, Gunnar Hoak.

    • JusSayin
      4:19 pm April 17, 2017 Permalink

      I don’t think we should start Hoak even if Johnson struggles early on. Johnson is not a elite SEC QB but he’s average and that’s good enough to win in the SEC east.

      We have a chance this year to win 8 or 9 games and that only happens with Johnson it’s too early in my opinion to cash it in and start taking our lumps for the future.

  6. claiborne_field
    3:57 pm April 17, 2017 Permalink

    I’m really just blown away by all this quarterback talk. Thanks, Stephen, for the wins and the bowl last season… but what have you done for us lately? Seriously?

    • claiborne_field
      4:12 pm April 17, 2017 Permalink

      Not to mention, who the heck is this David Ching character and why do we put so much merit in his article? He works for ESPN. Big deal. He primarily covers LSU and used to cover UGA athletics… Last time I checked Stephen Johnson doesn’t play for either of those teams. And I bet Ching has never played a snap of college football. My point is, his article on Johnson is about as useful as my comments on KSR. Mindless dribble and speculation… Show some loyalty to Johnson, folks.

    • JusSayin
      4:17 pm April 17, 2017 Permalink

      Johnson should start but he’s obviously not elite. He’s just okay. And for UK football thats pretty damn good. He’s earned his spot but people shouldn’t surprised that he’s not Deshaun Watson in the spring game because he never was.

    • TBW3011
      7:15 pm April 17, 2017 Permalink

      It’s a team game. We won despite him in every game but one. He was asked to simply manage the game. We can do that again this year and win 6-7 games again. If we can get above average play from the QB spot this year we have a shot at a special season. This myth he “won” games last year is absurd. We ran 40 times a game because we were really good at it and passing wasn’t really an option in most games.

  7. AllBlueAllDay
    4:00 pm April 17, 2017 Permalink

    Dang a lot of negative comments regarding Johnson… Best I remember Johnson had a pretty darn accurate deep ball. If he learns to throw with some touch, and protects the ball better I think he becomes the SEC caliber qb we all hope for. I think Johnson has a great year and we are looking at another 7 wins possibly 8. Sure that’s the same as last year but we have to make baby steps. Consistency has to be found first before we can conquer the SEC. As compared to where we were a few years ago we would all take at least 7 wins again.

  8. ukkatzfan
    4:21 pm April 17, 2017 Permalink

    A person can look at the stats and all the facts of Saturday and any other time with Stephen Johnson. Or they can get their head out of their arse and realize he is a gamer, a competitor, a warrior. So talk about him all you want for 6 days a week. He will show you who the fool is on game day.

  9. 3dcatfan
    4:34 pm April 17, 2017 Permalink

    We won 1 game because of SJ last yr (Louisville) but won a lot more in spite of him. He struggled mightily at times. Why do you think Stoops talked to Hoak and his dad about possibly pulling his redshirt? It wasn’t because SJ was doing well. I sense a mentality in the media and to a degree from the coaches that we owe to SJ to start him because we won 7 games last yr. Do all of last years returning starters get to automatically start this year too? If Kash proves better than Love during the summer are we still going to start Love? I hope not! Honestly QB was one of our worst if not the worst positions on offense most of last yr. Remember how 1 dimensional in the red zone we were against Georgia and couldn’t score TD’s because of it and eventually lost because we had to settle for FG’s??? We lined up in the wildcat over and over because we had the best RB combo in all of CFB and because we couldn’t throw any intermediate passes. According to the Spring game SJ didn’t appear to correct his accuracy or pocket presence. Many have written it off as being greedy but maybe it’s just SJ. Let’s be honest, no one said he was being greedy when he missed those throws and open receivers during the 2016 season. I hope SJ improves and does well for the sake of the team because the media & coaches seem hell-bent on him being the starter.

    • Sentient Third Eye
      4:40 pm April 17, 2017 Permalink

      Last year he was pretty solid with the long ball. It was the intermediate passes he really struggled with. So, yes, some of the misses in the spring game were out-of-character for him.

    • 3dcatfan
      5:13 pm April 17, 2017 Permalink

      So he hasn’t fixed his intermediate passing (which is needed more often) or his pocket presence and now he’s struggling with the one thing he did really well (the long ball)? Great! Look I like SJ but we couldn’t even utilize our biggest passing threat (Conrad) because he couldn’t get the ball to him. I’m not sure I can get over wasting another year of him (receiving wise), can you? All I’m saying is whoever performs the best in practice from now til the start of the season, whether that’s Johnson, Barker, Hoak or Clark etc… that’s who should be the starter. It shouldn’t be determined off last years record, that’s all I’m saying…. Let the best player play!

    • Brian in Franklin
      6:51 pm April 17, 2017 Permalink

      I dont give a rip if he’s elite or not. Its a friggin SPRING GAME which is about 5-10% of the playbook. Hoak didnt get early whistles like SJ. Hoak did look better, but without the QB run portion of the playbook for Johnson, the format somewhat favors a pro-style QB. There were several plays where SJ could’ve ran and didn’t. I hope everyone remembers their BS negative comments when SJ delivers in the fall. Be happy that football is around the corner, get behind the CATS, and quit the BS snarky comments.

    • TBW3011
      7:18 pm April 17, 2017 Permalink

      This is 100% true. I love the kid and wish him the best, but acting like he won games last year is just not true other than Louisville. He was average to below average and asked to do practically nothing most games. He has to cut the turnovers out this year. Entirely too many last year.

  10. BluKudzu
    5:00 pm April 17, 2017 Permalink

    Did he beat a Heisman winner? On their home field?
    I am with Johnson.

  11. fashodo
    5:20 pm April 17, 2017 Permalink

    Stupid argument. Im with SJ all day. Sure he’s not an “elite” talent at QB, but who cares? We don’t need him to win us games, thats what the running game is for. UK needs him to do his job mistake free and make some plays here and there with his arm/legs. SJ’s receiving options have only improved from last season. With Conrad, improved O-Line, older receivers, and Benny Snell, I expect to see SJ have a lot of wide open targets out of the play action this fall

  12. runningunnin.454
    6:50 pm April 17, 2017 Permalink

    Stephen Johnson became our QB the old fashioned way…..he earned it.
    Sorry, Mr. Kaching…he’s the only QB we have on the roster that totally embarrassed the Heisman winner last year.

    • TBW3011
      7:21 pm April 17, 2017 Permalink

      Not trying to nitpick, but he became the QB because the starter got hurt. It’s ok to say that and still root for the kid. Some people are acting like he’s freaking Tom Brady.

    • runningunnin.454
      8:36 pm April 17, 2017 Permalink

      I don’t mind nitpicking…I’m a big time nitpicker. But, he became the QB because the starter got hurt….last year.
      I’m saying he’s earned the starting job next season…based on performance.
      And I’m not comparing him to one of the best QBs in recent NFL history.

  13. Seriously!!!!!!!!!! Anyone who thinks Johnson is good needs to relax!! I don’t know who our best QB is but we won games IN SPITE OF JOHNSON!!! NOT BECAUSE OF HIM!!!! I’m not sure what the answer to the question is but I feel good about crossing out Stephen Johnson. HAVE WE ALREADY FORGOTTEN MORGAN NEWTON’S FRESHMAN YEAR WHEN HE WENT 5-2 AND BEAT AUBURN AND GEORGIA ON THE ROAD!!! Of course we have because we (KSR) don’t beat up on the university that feeds us.. If Johnson QB’s this team all year 6-6 is your ceiling.