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.
Gunnar Hoak File
- Enrolled at Kentucky in January of 2016
- 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.