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The Kentucky Quarterback Situation


Pic by The Desert Sun

The easy out here is to quote “sources” about the Kentucky quarterback situation. But, for argument sakes, let’s go with what we’ve heard from coaches during spring practice press conferences and historical data to make our argument on the Wildcat QB situation.

We have to discuss scenarios before we dive into the three candidates.

  • Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran has insisted that all positions are up for grabs and competition exists across the depth chart.
  • Stephen Johnson led his team to a New Year’s bowl game after resiliently filling in for the injured starter. Johnson has experienced the most sustained positional success as per the eye test.
  • From all accounts, Johnson has carried over his late-season achievement into spring practice. Words such as “composed,” “leader,” “efficient,” and other complimentary terms have been used while describing the senior signal caller.
  • Johnson dilemma: Will Darin Hinshaw reward Johnson’s 2016-season saving performance and spring practice efficiency with the starting job? Can he afford not to name Johnson as the offense’s leader while Stephen is actually leading the team?
  • Eddie Gran has been highly complementary of his offense’s execution and potential with Johnson at the helm. Will continuity win out?
  • Drew Barker was the starting quarterback in 2016. Barker blistered Southern Miss in the first half prior to his team’s pending, second half meltdown. His next week’s performance in the Swamp was putrid. But, was that game an indication of Drew Barker’s quarterbacking abilities or did his injured back impede execution? I tend to think that Drew was in serious pain and limited but decided to gut it out.
  • The main dilemma here pertains to an old football method of operation: Starters cannot lose their position due to injury.
  • Dilemma II: With the NCAA’s 20-hour rule, can Eddie Gran afford to present Barker with practice reps IF his back continues to be an issue and on-field presence remains in doubt? Coaches have very little time to prepare two QB’s to be game ready. Three is nearly impossible.
  • Tough, tough situation. Regardless of what Drew Barker has or has not done both on and off the field; the northern Kentucky native’s status on the team cannot be understated. He was a critical part of signing the university’s most heralded recruiting class and remains a popular figure in the locker room. Agree or not; former starters are to be shown reverence and respect.
  • Gunnar Hoak has separated from the pack and is the established and at this point in time, “mythical” number two on the depth chart. Hinshaw recently told the media that he is confident that Hoak could win in the SEC. I agree.
  • Much like Stephen Johnson, Hoak has methodically developed into a legitimate, SEC starting quarterback. While he doesn’t move the public perception needle as much as the other two, it would be unwise to count the redshirt freshman out of the equation. Hoak may be the best passer of the three. 

Stephen Johnson File

  • Enrolled at UK in January of 2016
  • Entered 16 season as backup. Led Cats to 7 wins in 11 games
  • Completed 145 of 265 passes (54.7%) for 2,037 yards and 13 touchdowns. Also had 327 yards rushing and 3 scores
  • Team MVP in Governor’s Cup: 16-27, 338-yards, 3 TD’s in Kentucky’s 41-38 win over Louisville
  • Team MVP of Taxslayer Bowl: 19-34, 175 yards, 1 TD. Also led the Cats with 49 rush yards and 1 touchdown
  • Had zero interceptions in the 4th quarter or in the Red Zone in 2016

The Case for Stephen Johnson the Starter

I can’t imagine a scenario in which Johnson is not the starting quarterback come September 2nd. As a proven entity that is reportedly improving on a daily basis; he brings consistency, leadership, balance, and composure.

Teammates follow leaders. Simple as that. Leaders also must be on-field producers and maintain sustained performance. Stephen Johnson has checked those blocks.

As you can read above; Stephen Johnson threw zero-4th quarter or red-zone interceptions in 2016. I’ve been searching for a statistic that properly explained the difference in Mark Stoops’ first four teams. I think I found it. That stat summarizes the variances in a five and seven-win season.


Pic by

Gunnar Hoak File

  • Enrolled at Kentucky in January of 2016
  • Redshirt
  • Was 4-5 for 57 yards and a touchdown in spring game

The Case for Gunnar Hoak the Starter

I’ve been high on Hoak since National Signing Day. The youngster has a similar sense of calm leadership that Stephen Johnson possesses. With his QB coach proclaiming that he could win games in the Southeastern Conference, it’s clear to me that Gunnar Hoak is the quarterback of the future and is at a minimum a highly capable backup. Hoak’s strengths are his accuracy and decision making ability.


The Drew Barker File


  • Missed final 9 games of 2016 with a back injury
  • First UK QB to have 4 TD passes in a half (vs. USM) since Andre Woodson
  • Career high in Southern Miss loss: 323 yards, 4 TDs


  • Played in 5 games, making the final two starts vs. Charlotte and Louisville
  • Connected on 35 of 70 passes for 364 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INTs
  • Was 7-9 for 42 yards in relief role vs. Mississippi State

The Case for Drew Barker the Starter

Again, tough situation. Matter of fact, I was in an eerily similar situation many years ago. Based on personal experience, I do not agree with nor do I like it when a starter loses his job due to an injury. I think most old school football folks would agree. But, with a back injury; accurately projecting future on-the-field, full-contact availability is an inaccurate proposition.

Barker did lead the offense to a touchdown on a 10-play drive in the Cat’s latest scrimmage. This can only be taken as an encouraging sign. But, drives can be scripted. QB’s wear red (no-contact) jerseys. Enormous difference in real-life football games. Regardless, a positive.

My first and foremost hope for Barker is for a complete recovery and long-lived health. If sustained football activity becomes a reality, then there is nothing to prevent him from competing for the starting job. However, time is not on his side. There will come a moment when a decision will have to be made whether to give Barker practice reps or not. Most likely this call won’t have to be made until Southern Miss prep work begins.

Kentucky has three capable starting quarterbacks. Who will be the starter and when will that decision be made? Notice I didn’t say, “when will that decision be made public”; two totally different matters. Only time, and not spring game performance, will tell.

Meeting room chemistry is a touchy subject. I do not think that this will be an issue with this team. A rocky QB situation can significantly inhibit and poison team. There’s too much at stake for that to transpire. There are far too many strong-vocal leaders for that to occur. The Kentucky Football program has matured too much for that to happen in 2017.

Article written by Freddie Maggard

Former University of Kentucky Quarterback and Andy Griffith Fan Club President

29 Comments for The Kentucky Quarterback Situation

  1. BlueGrass
    4:03 pm April 5, 2017 Permalink

    I’m trying to understand the point of this post.

    This is how I am translating what I read. Johnson is our starter, no debate, but the rest of the post is a nice way of saying that Hoak or Barker will be #2. If Barker is #2, be prepared for him to transfer due to the lack of practice time, quickly expiring eligibility (though not directly stated), high risk of re-injury, and the emergence of Hoak. With the caveat, that there are some intangibles Barker brings to the table that cannot be quantified. These intangibles could disrupt team chemistry, but that is unlikely to happen due to the maturity on the team.

    Timeline for any of this to transpire is the end of fall camp.

    Did I get that right?

  2. Souf beach Lou
    4:15 pm April 5, 2017 Permalink

    To me there is no debate, Kentucky has not had a starting QB since Woodson that looked as comfortable behind center. There is only one issue with Johnson however, the strip fumbles turned out to be a real problem with him and you could tell that by the end of the season teams scouted this weekness and capitalized. He needs to hit that weight room and get some strength so that guys just can’t rip the ball out his hands. Also that knee got tweaked a bit and he seemed like he was in a bit of pain down the stretch. But outside of improving his strength he has a great game. It’s a no brainer.

  3. jch67
    4:15 pm April 5, 2017 Permalink

    I would tend to agree with the mantra “starters can’t lose their starting position to injury”. However, I only see this applicable for short-term/same season injuries. Barker basically missed the entire season – not a few games.

    Had Barker come back to play last season I would agree, he should have gotten his starting position back until when or if it was proven Johnson was the better player. But he didn’t. And, it’s a new season. Aren’t all positions open, at least to some degree, at this time of year??? Why should a player who didn’t play, basically, the previous year be given the nod over one who did and did so at a high level?

    Barker, Hoak and Johnson need to prove who’s the better QB. Factoring in the practice time rules makes this difficult but it is what it is, all teams have the same rules. The coaches will have to figure it out.

    One more thing; Barker hasn’t proven he can be an SEC QB. “Torching” USM for a half – let’s not forget how the same USM defense completely stifled Barker and the UK offense in the second half – proves nothing; they were scheduled because they were supposed to be an easy win, period. As for coming into 2016 as the “incumbent” – he didn’t exactly “light it up” during his 2015 performance. He won the starter’s job in ’16 by default.

    What’s so wrong with the idea of Barker NOT being the starting QB? Sure, he might transfer but, assuming he was beat out for the starting position and he feels that’s what’s best for him – so be it. I could live with Johnson as starter and Hoak as backup with Hoak ready to take the reigns 2018.

    If Barker can’t win the job, Barker shouldn’t have the job, period.

    • ClutchCargo
      5:19 pm April 5, 2017 Permalink

      GREAT comment.

  4. chrisg18
    4:17 pm April 5, 2017 Permalink

    I have a hard time seeing Barker transfer. I bet he’s not even 100% physically most of the 2017 season. Back injuries take a long time to recover. Johnson is our starter for 2017. Barker the back up with spot duty throughout the season (as long as he’s somewhat healthy). Barker will be the guy in 2018, Hoak the back up. Then Hoak has two years left to be the guy.

    If this is how it plays out, we are looking good at the QB position for quite awhile.

  5. ziplock
    4:39 pm April 5, 2017 Permalink

    I can’t wait to see how the coaches use Lynn Bowden. He has some of the best youtube highlights I’ve seen for a Ky recruit.

  6. neilbert
    5:20 pm April 5, 2017 Permalink

    Johnson should me our starter , he has earned it. In my opinion, Barker has the physical skills to play QB but lacks the quick decision making necessary to be a big time D1 QB. Remember Barker at home against Louisville? Then look at Johnson on the road against Louisville. He has that intangible aspect that is hard to pin down. The man has moxy.

    • ClutchCargo
      5:29 pm April 5, 2017 Permalink

      I don’t think anyone can really say what Barker is capable of doing, due to missing so much time. The timing of that injury just sucked for him. Regardless, I agree that Johnson should be the starter at this point.

  7. sardiscat
    5:22 pm April 5, 2017 Permalink

    Johnson has a winning record at UK. I’ve been following UK football since 1963 and can’t remember another occasion when UK had a returning qb with a winning record at UK. Any speculation that he will not be this season’s starter is just somebody trying to stir up something.

  8. The Professor
    5:27 pm April 5, 2017 Permalink

    I would guess that Barker has an advantage in all the physical attributes other than scrambling ability. However, Johnson has shown a far superior mental capacity. He has confidence, leadership and he is a fighter. I hate to say it but Barker has often looked like a deer in headlights.

    5:40 pm April 5, 2017 Permalink

    The ” old football method of operation: Starters cannot lose their position due to injury.” just doesn’t apply in this case. Johnson should be our QB unless one of the other guys is threading passes at 50 yards and running like Emmitt Smith with the ball.
    There really is no dillema for this issue.

  10. blueballs80
    5:56 pm April 5, 2017 Permalink

    This is a no brainer Freddie. SJ starts. He has won games on the road. Drew still has to prove himself worthy of 7 wins. If SJ had not performed like he did last season , then DB can be brought into consideration. Right now DB is third string and he has to wait barring SJ has a bad season or an injury.

  11. bige
    6:09 pm April 5, 2017 Permalink

    Barker doesn’t have the savvy to be a QB. Got by on athleticism until college.

    Move him to TE or LB.

    • hbond23
      8:05 pm April 5, 2017 Permalink

      He can be a good QB, it’s just we haven’t really seen what he can really do. I mean he’s only played roughly six games. A few quarters and two “full” games two seasons ago and two and a half games before injury last season. I’d love to see him succeed because he’s from the area

    • CATandMONKEY
      8:31 pm April 5, 2017 Permalink

      Would love to see him succeed but unless he offers an extremely clear advantage over Johnson I don’t care where he hails from.

  12. J-Dub421
    7:56 pm April 5, 2017 Permalink

    Stephen Johnson should be our starting QB. Why are we even having this discussion?

  13. hbond23
    8:00 pm April 5, 2017 Permalink

    It’s obvious that the QB battle will be Barker-Johnson. But I have a feeling this will have the Patrick Towles-Drew Barer feel again with whoever looks better could crash and burn like we saw with Towles starting kinda high then self imploding. I really think it’ll be Stephen Johnson against Southern Miss who gets the start. Now the real questions are: Is there a potential that we see both take snaps during the game? and will Drew Barker be healthy? It’ll be very interesting to see how it plays out

    • xXWaddle10Xx
      8:37 pm April 5, 2017 Permalink

      The only difference between Patrick and SJ is that SJ has more than five wins under his belt in a season. Still a chance he could crash and burn, but factor in that SJ when intercepted in a game didn’t seem to ponder on it like Towles and DB does. SJ normally just moved on to the next series and often didn’t make the same mistake as DB did in the Louisville game in 15 and Towles did in most of the 7 losses after each 5 wins.

    • xXWaddle10Xx
      8:38 pm April 5, 2017 Permalink


  14. rosquirto
    8:08 pm April 5, 2017 Permalink

    Tom Brady and dak Prescott do not agree with your qb beliefs 😜

  15. fatbrat
    8:54 pm April 5, 2017 Permalink

    In my opinion the job belongs to Johnson, period, anything short of that would be a complete travesty..

  16. lex cath
    9:22 pm April 5, 2017 Permalink

    I really can’t believe this article, it’s not like we’ve had QB controversy in the last 50 years. A guy that takes us to a win over top ten Louisville on the road and to a bowl game and now we have a controversy ? Johnson is the guy, pretty simple logic

    • blueballs80
      10:03 pm April 5, 2017 Permalink

      I agree. SJ took over and has the momentum going. Why start with some old school ideology that if the starters cannot lose their position due to injury?if the other QB is doing well why halt or switch momentum. SJ deserves to be the starter until he can’t prove otherwise then we can have the debate between DB and GH.

  17. BlueDew
    9:43 pm April 5, 2017 Permalink

    I’m shocked and appalled that this post was ever written. No disrespect to the author, but damn. Just when we come off a season with momentum and the QB responsible for almost unprecedented success is UNBELIEVABLE. To make a case for two other QB to be the starter is unreal, REALLY. The old thought process that a player can’t lose their position by injury is ridiculous in this situation. If the player doing the replacing is not as good or less effective as the starter, then yeah, I see the point. However, Steven Johnson did an outstanding job. Do I have to remind the author that Stephen Johnson went into UL, a hostile environment, and beat the Heisman TROPHEY winner. The author even states that he can’t imagine a senario where Johnson doesn’t start. So, why post this in the first place? Looks like to me the author is trying to stir the pot. Football as, everyone knows, is like life, sometimes there are tough breaks. I hate that Barker was injured, but at this point in time Johnson should be THE QB, unless he just quits working to improve. I don’t think he is wired that way.

  18. BlueDiz
    9:50 pm April 5, 2017 Permalink

    Stephen Johnson is the one quarterback with no options. This is his only time and opportunity to be a first string quarterback for a major school. We seem to be worrying about missing out on some great talent if either Barker or Hoak decide to go elsewhere. I agree that it would be a great loss. However, the entire BBN is emotionally vested in Stephen an we cannot tolerate the thought that he might be mistreated because of his limited options. I would love to see all three playing this season, but not under adverse conditions.

  19. Testing, testing…