UK Football

UK football notebook: Storylines abound as EKU visits Kentucky

Backup quarterback Drew Barker will get some snaps against EKU, Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops confirms. "I have wanted to get Drew in for some time," Stoops said.
Backup quarterback Drew Barker will get some snaps against EKU, Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops confirms. "I have wanted to get Drew in for some time," Stoops said. Jonathan Palmer

This is not your run of the mill big school versus small school matchup at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday.

The game between Kentucky and instate rival Eastern Kentucky has more story lines than a TV miniseries.

There's a certain bar brawl, which led to a certain well-publicized punch of a certain backup quarterback.

There's a certain EKU running back, Dy'Shawn Mobley, who was an up-and-comer at Kentucky, along with a Colonels defensive lineman, Patrick Graffree, who signed with UK initially and also was involved in the aforementioned punch.

There's a certain starting UK running back, Boom Williams, who made headlines for missing a practice with a "personal issue" before returning to practices later this week, but whose playing status is in question for Saturday.

There's the certain backup quarterback, Drew Barker, who fans and coaches have been eager to see play since he signed with UK two years ago, who will take his first collegiate snaps.

There's a certain UK starting quarterback, Patrick Towles, who played one of the best games of his career last week in the win over Missouri, which followed one of his worst career games against Florida the week before. Cats fans wonder which Towles will show.

All of these storylines set the stage for a different kind of in-state rivalry game between an FCS school and an FBS school.

They all could make for a more than interesting Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.

Barker's big day

It's been 687 days since Drew Barker played in a live football game. But coaches have made it clear that his time will come versus Eastern Kentucky.

"I'm really excited, looking forward to the opportunity," said Barker, who connected on just six of 24 passes in that 35-34 loss to Anderson County in the Class 5A playoffs in 2013, ending his high school career. "I'm just going out there and it's a big game for our team, trying to continue the momentum."

After what was called a close quarterback competition with Towles in the preseason, head coach Mark Stoops said he was eager to get Barker some snaps. There was much talk that the redshirt freshman would get to play in the opener against Louisiana-Lafayette, but a Ragin' Cajuns comeback negated that chance.

It's a high priority to get Barker in the game Saturday, Stoops said. "I have wanted to get Drew in for some time," he said, noting that an opportunity hasn't presented itself in UK's first four games, all decided by eight points or fewer.

"He will play in this game. And I've been wanting to do that, no matter what. No matter what the game is. Just force myself, like we've talked about, whether it's the second quarter and the game's on the line, if it's any game, whatever it is," Stoops said. "I've got to get him some reps."

The fear is that something could eventually happen that would take Towles out of a game and Barker would go in without a single collegiate snap.

"It's like I told him every week, he's one snap away," offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "I have all the trust in the world in that kid, and when he gets in there I think he'll do well."

There is no set plan in place for when Barker will go in against the Colonels, just that he'll get in.

The 6-foot-3, 225-pound quarterback said he's ready.

"When you're the second guy on the depth chart, you never know when you could go in," Barker said. "You see it all over college football. ... So you just gotta make sure you're plugged in, tuned in every game, because you never know when your number's going to get called."

In the (red) zone

Of the many statistical improvements Kentucky has made this season, the most significant might be for the defense, which went from one of the nation's worst in the red zone to one of the best.

Just a season ago, UK opponents were scoring touchdowns 68.2 percent of the time they got within 20 yards of the Cats' end zone. This season that number is down to 38.5 percent, 15th best in the nation.

"Just across the board we're better," Stoops said of his defense, which was 126th out of 128 teams overall in the red zone last season. "I think we understand what we're doing better. Quite honestly, just making plays, making competitive plays in the red zone has probably been the biggest difference."

Another difference-maker for the Cats is true freshman cornerback Chris Westry, whose 6-foot-4 frame keeps opponents from just lofting jump ball touchdown passes.

"We've won some critical one-on-ones on the edges," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "Chris Westry has won a bunch of them and that's going to be key in this league and moving forward: You have to win at corner, whether it's in the red zone or the middle of the field."

Mobley makes return

The last time Dy'Shawn Mobley played at Commonwealth Stadium, he amassed 143 yards on 17 carries in a loss to Tennessee, but he was wearing Kentucky blue.

Now he'll be on the opposing sideline with the Colonels, for whom he has become a star with 1,491 yards and 20 touchdowns last season on his way to Ohio Valley Conference Offensive Player of the Year honors.

A lingering hamstring injury has limited Mobley this season to just 38 yards on 13 carries, but he's expected to play Saturday against his former team.

"He was a really good kid and really produced well at the end of the year and he's a very talented player," Stoops said Monday of the 5-foot-11, 215-pounder. "I'm sure he'll be anxious and excited to come back here and play for his team, to help his team."

Honoring fallen teammate

Eastern Kentucky's football players will have two additions to their uniforms Saturday: A black patch with the letters "JK" will honor teammate Joey Kraemer, who was killed early Sunday in a single-vehicle accident in Madison County. The redshirt defensive lineman joined the team in August after transferring from UTEP.

The Colonels also will wear gold shoelaces to help raise awareness for childhood cancer. EKU purchased its gold laces from Go4theGoal.org, who then donated a portion of the proceeds to UK Children's Hospital.

Switched allegiances

New Eastern Kentucky Athletics Director Steve Lochmueller's Big Blue pedigree is impeccable.

A member with Kevin Grevey and Jimmy Dan Conner of the "Super Kittens" basketball recruiting class, Lochmueller lettered as a reserve forward for Joe B. Hall in 1972-73 and '73-74. He then transitioned and played football for Fran Curci as a UK senior.

Having been hired as EKU's AD this year, Lochmueller will find himself in an unprecedented position Saturday: Cheering against the Cats.

"It is correct to say this will be my first time rooting against my alma mater," he told the Herald-Leader's Mark Story on Monday. "But I will be sporting maroon and rooting for my school, which is now EKU."

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