By LARRY VAUGHT
Quarterbacks are second-guessed more than anyone on a football team — except the head coach.
When Drew Barker was backing up Patrick Towles, many Kentucky fans felt he should be the starter and wanted him to get more playing time. He became the starter last year but was knocked out for the season early in the third game.
Stephen Johnson came in to lead UK to seven wins and a bowl bid. With Barker back healthy this season and the UK offense struggling in game one at Southern Mississippi, many fans blistered Stoops for not playing Barker.
Fast forward to Saturday. Kentucky’s offense was off to a slow start against Eastern Kentucky. On UK’s third series, Barker came into the game. He came back on the next series as well. Neither series went well as UK lost six yards in six plays.
Johnson came back in with Kentucky trailing 13-3 and eventually led UK to a 27-16 victory.
So guess what? Now Stoops is being criticized for showing a lack of confidence in Johnson and disrupting his rhythm by playing Barker.
“We said that we were going to play him (Barker) on the third series no matter what. We did. We have to. Said the same thing last year when Stephen was a backup. You're one play away from playing him. Sure enough, Stephen was playing,” Stoops said.
That happened early in the third game when Barker went out with the back injury and never returned. Until Saturday, he had not played in a game again.
At first, I’ll admit I thought the timing of putting Barker in seemed strange with UK down early to Eastern Kentucky. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I agree with Stoops. He needed to play Barker with crucial games coming up the next two weeks against South Carolina and Florida.
What is Johnson goes down? Would any UK fan really want to go to a quarterback who had yet to take a snap this year — or in the last 12 games?
On a pregame radio show, I heard former quarterback Jared Lorenzen say he preferred to let redshirt freshman Gunnar Hoak play before Barker if the opportunity was there. Obviously, Lorenzen has played a lot more football than me and knows a lot more about the game than me.
However, I don’t understand why playing Barker was the wrong thing to do. How does he go from being so good UK should have played him in week one to not needing to play and upset Johnson’s rhythm in game two — when UK had managed just three points under Johnson in this game.??“We had to get Drew back out there and get his confidence up and get him playing and get him some snaps, see what he can do,” Stoops patiently explained after Saturday’s win.
Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran knew Barker wanted to play. He also felt Barker was ready to play.
And remember the UK offensive line was getting overpowered in the first half when both Johnson and Barker played. That makes it hard for any quarterback to look sharp.
“He got some playing time under his belt, and to me that’s huge for him. That’s a huge deal,” Gran said. “That’s a huge deal.”
It is and there is no quarterback controversy. Johnson came back in and methodically led Kentucky to the win. Just win. That’s what Johnson has done better than anything.
Kentucky is 9-4 with Johnson as the primary quarterback, including 8-4 as a starter. His losses came against Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Georgia Tech. His best win came at Louisville but he also got a win over South Carolina last year.
“I think they respond to him. It comes down to everybody doing their job, too, getting some time and some protection, not having bad snaps, things like that. Just all playing together and believing,” Stoops said.
Now if Kentucky fans will just believe more in Stoops when it comes to handling personnel and quit trying to create a quarterback controversy when there is not one in his mind, the players’ minds or his quarterbacks’ mind. They all just want to win and enjoy it. Fans should do the same.
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