Stephen Johnson said he can do better.
Johnson’s coaches said he will do better.
The good news for Kentucky is it beat Vanderbilt 20-13 on Saturday night even when the quarterback wasn’t playing close to his best.
The junior-college transfer completed just 10 of his 24 pass attempts for 49 yards with an interception and a couple of other passes that were inches away from being interceptions.
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“We’re going to watch the film, and there’s going to be about 12 throws that we’re going to be like, ‘C’mon, man, let’s go. We’ve got to be better than this,’” said Darin Hinshaw, UK’s quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator.
Instead of harping on the negative, Hinshaw instead pointed to the 3-yard scoring run for Johnson and the 55 yards on 10 carries, including two key fourth-and-1 plays, which his coach called “incredible.”
“He’s making plays and he’s helping us make plays, which is what we want to get to,” the coach said. “Now we have to get a little better throwing the football in certain situations and certain coverages.
“Some of it he’s panicking a little bit, he’s trying to be perfect. He just needs to relax and let the coverage happen.”
For his part, the junior said he was a little antsy and didn’t set his feet to complete passes.
“It’s definitely something I need to work on personally these next two weeks,” Johnson said.
Hinshaw did not seem concerned about the issues getting in Johnson’s head.
“He’s very confident,” the coach said. “He’ll get frustrated just like anybody, but he knows we’re behind him 100 percent.”
Since starter Drew Barker went down with a back injury, Coach Mark Stoops said the Cats have been putting a lot on Johnson in a short amount of time.
Having a week off this week will help in his development.
“He will settle down, I just told him that right now, just relax,” Stoops said. “You can see on his face, and he’s a very good conscientious young man, and he needs a little break right now.”
There had been some discussion about Barker’s back perhaps getting re-evaluated by doctors and specialists after a few weeks, but Stoops said that’s not the plan during the bye week.
‘Toxic, negative stuff’
After the collapse to Southern Mississippi to open the season, Stoops said he pulled the players in tight.
“I wanted to see the whites of their eyes, and I told them to stay the course,” Stoops relayed on Saturday after UK’s win over Vanderbilt. “I said, every son of a gun outside of this room right here will be attacking you and me. So put your head down, do your job, and go to work. Because there’s nowhere to run and there’s nowhere to hide. You either man up and get better or you cave.”
Stoops added that UK isn’t a great team, but they’re a work in progress that has shown signs of progress the past few weeks.
The coaches were comfortable taking the criticism after things didn’t go well early, but Stoops seemed to be pleading with the fans to stay positive with the players.
“The toxic, negative stuff, very hard to turn a program when people turn that way, and turn on the kids and turn on the players,” he said. “Coaches deserve to be criticized. That’s our job, it’s part of our job, but the players and getting toxic and negative and being all that, that’s not going to help get this program to where we want it to go. I promise you.”
Important visitors on campus
Highly touted quarterback Danny Clark and five-star offensive lineman Jedrick Wills — arguably UK’s top two remaining recruiting targets in the class of 2017 — were both in attendance for the Wildcats’ game against Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Clark, in town for his official visit, was led onto the field by UK recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow about an hour before kickoff. He and his family spoke with Marrow, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran and junior wide receiver Dorian Baker — a fellow Ohio native — before the game.
Rivals.com ranks Clark as the No. 17 pro-style quarterback in the class of 2017. He announced his de-commitment from Ohio State a couple of weeks ago. Clark was joined by his younger brother, Caden Clark, a prospect from the class of 2020 who received his first scholarship offer earlier this month from Kentucky.
Wills — a standout at Lafayette High School — chatted with UK Coach Mark Stoops on the field for a few minutes in the hour leading up to kickoff. Wills also spoke with freshman offensive lineman Landon Young — a former high school teammate — during pregame drills.
Rivals.com ranks Wills as the No. 4 offensive tackle nationally and No. 16 overall prospect in the class of 2017. He took the first official visit of his recruitment last week to Michigan.
News and notes
Kentucky got several players back from injuries and suspensions, including wide receiver Dorian Baker, left tackle Cole Mosier and defensive back Marcus Walker.
The Cats also got a big play from Kengera Daniel, who had served a four-game suspension to start the season. The hybrid player was able to come in when Denzil Ware was injured and get a huge stop.
“Today we needed him on that fourth-and-1 to make that stop and he did,” defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said of Daniel, who finished with just that one tackle. “Hail to Kengera! Everything he’s been through and he may have made the play that won the game for Kentucky.”
Baker did not have a catch in the win, but not many wide outs did with just 10 completions from Johnson.
▪ Nose guard Matt Elam missed the game with an undisclosed injury and struggled to play the week before against Alabama, Stoops said.
“He’s got some injuries and, hopefully, it will be a week or two,” he said. “I think he should be back by the next game.”
▪ Willow Kreutzer and Patrick Smith were crowned king and queen of homecoming.
Staff writer Ben Roberts contributed to this report.