Kentucky’s quarterback situation remains murky for the game against South Carolina.
Drew Barker, who injured his back on one of the first plays against New Mexico State on Saturday, is listed as the starter at quarterback on the depth chart released Monday.
But it sounds like the sophomore is quite questionable for the game against South Carolina, with Coach Mark Stoops saying Barker’s back problems are “chronic” in nature.
“He’s had some issues that were lingering, so it’s not just one hit,” Stoops said of the injury that sidelined Barker for the rest of the game on Saturday and likely led to his early interception.
“So if you look at the hit it doesn’t look anything too much, but I think you put that and compound it on some of the back problems that he’s had, even going back to last week at Florida.”
At his Monday afternoon news conference to preview Saturday’s game, Stoops said Barker had an MRI and is going to consult with staff doctors and some specialists and “we’ll get to the bottom of it and see what’s best for him.”
During his Monday evening radio show, Stoops said Barker will see a specialist Wednesday. The coach added that Barker’s return to practice Wednesday would require a “miraculous recovery.”
Backup Stephen Johnson came in against New Mexico State and guided the Cats to one of their top offensive performances in school history.
When asked if Johnson will be part of the plan whether Barker is available or not, Stoops said: “I would think so.”
Johnson, a junior-college standout, has completed 18 of his 25 passes (72 percent) for 355 yards and three touchdowns, all to tight end C.J. Conrad. He’s also the Cats’ third-leading rusher, with 17 carries for 60 yards.
Against New Mexico State, Johnson amassed 310 yards passing, including a career-long 72-yard pass to Conrad, the longest first TD pass for a UK quarterback since 1995.
“I thought he was really exceptional,” Stoops said of Johnson, who struggled on his first possession but settled in. “He made good decisions. He was very poised. He was accurate on the deep ball. He got the ball on the bubble screens, where we have the run-pass options on the bubble screens. … He made very good decisions and was very poised, and he was accurate.”
After being named the starter in the spring, Barker has started all three games, completing 18 of 36 passes for 334 yards with four touchdowns and five interceptions.
Stoops, who made it clear that he left Barker in the top spot on the depth chart purposefully, said he didn’t plan to discuss hypothetical options.
“I have no idea how healthy Drew’s gonna be and what he’s gonna look like this week,” Stoops said. “I was just asked if I anticipate Stephen playing, and the answer is yes, I do. To what extent, I don’t know.”
As for the Cats’ No. 3 quarterback, Cincinnati transfer Luke Wright closed out the game Saturday versus New Mexico State, but Stoops said true freshman Gunnar Hoak will get some reps this week, too.
He previously had been slated for a redshirt season.
Depth chart, injury updates
▪ Last year’s leading wide receiver, Dorian Baker, who has been battling a hamstring injury since August, is still atop the depth chart at that position and is considered day-to-day. He has played a limited amount this season and doesn’t yet have a catch.
▪ Jojo Kemp, who has had loads of success against South Carolina the past two seasons, missed last week with an ankle injury, but the senior running back is likely to return this week.
▪ Left tackle Cole Mosier, who missed most of the Florida game and all of the New Mexico State game with an ankle injury, is expected to be back at practice this week, his coach said.
“They say he’ll be out there today,” Stoops said of the UK medical staff. “So hopefully he’ll be out there and continue to work and we’ll see how he is. I won’t make any decision or anything until we see how the week goes. I’m sure Landon (Young) will play no matter what, but Cole, we’ll see what his ankle’s like.”
▪ Defensive lineman Kengera Daniel, who has not played yet this season, has been suspended and will be available to play after this game, Stoops confirmed.
▪ Defensively, Tymere Dubose moved to the No. 2 spot on the depth chart at defensive tackle behind Adrian Middleton.
“Adrian Middleton is doing some good things inside,” Stoops said when asked about the defensive line. “He’s playing better. Tymere Dubose is a big body that we have to get to play more consistently, to play better, to rest guys like Courtney Miggins. We have to get some more depth in there.”
There’s an “or” now listed between Blake McClain and Marcus McWilson at starting free safety, and McClain was moved back to the No. 1 spot at nickel back.
His head coach challenged McWilson to improve quickly.
“He’s got to step up and play better there,” Stoops said of the senior. “Then maybe we can play Blake back at some nickel and continue to use Kendall (Randolph) in nickel and dime. He’s coming along but doesn’t have a lot of reps.”
▪ Saturday’s game against South Carolina on the SEC Network will feature play-by-play with Brent Musburger beside analyst Jesse Palmer, with sideline reporting from Kylee Hartung.
South Carolina at Kentucky
7:30 p.m. (SEC Network)