UK Football

Barker gets keys to Cats’ offense

Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker released a pass as the University of Kentucky played the University of Georgia in Sanford Stadium in Athens, GA., Saturday, November 7, 2015. This is fourth quarter college football action. Georgia won 27-3. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff
Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker released a pass as the University of Kentucky played the University of Georgia in Sanford Stadium in Athens, GA., Saturday, November 7, 2015. This is fourth quarter college football action. Georgia won 27-3. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff Herald-Leader

Standing at the window in his office, Mark Stoops can see Commonwealth Stadium.

In one of many meetings he’s had with redshirt freshman quarterback Drew Barker in that office, he motioned toward the stadium.

“‘You’re going to get this opportunity in here, and what you do with it is up to you,’” the Kentucky coach recalled telling Barker.

On Sunday Stoops met with Barker again, this time to tell him that he would be the Cats’ starting quarterback against Charlotte (2-8) on Saturday night.

“I told him yesterday I know it took a little longer than he anticipated to truly get the keys to the car but he has them now,” Stoops said.

Barker’s first starting opportunity, after coming in as a reserve in three games this season, will come against a Charlotte team that has lost eight straight games. Early betting lines have Kentucky, which has lost five in a row, as a 24-point favorite over the 49ers.

But the comfy confines and the non-conference opponent had little to do with why Kentucky (4-6) is making the change from Patrick Towles to Barker now, Stoops said.

“It certainly does come into the equation, but that hasn’t been the determining factor,” Stoops said Monday. “I’ve always told you, and it’s been true, I’ve started the guy that we believe gave us the best opportunity to win. Now it’s Drew’s turn.”

Last week coaches praised Barker for his quick decisions.

“We all know that’s important and I think one thing you see from him at times you really like is he’s decisive in what he’s doing,” Stoops said of Barker, who led UK on a touchdown drive at Vanderbilt last week.

He followed that up with a pick-six against the Commodores, who beat UK 21-17 on Saturday.

After the loss, Barker said it was a bad read.

“I didn’t see the guy drop,” he said. “That’s on me, 100 percent. If that never happened we probably win the game.”

Coaches went back to Towles later in the game, which Stoops was asked about Monday.

“We just honestly felt like we wanted to see if somebody could get hot and spark us,” Stoops said. “When we did that with Drew he went in and did some good things, like I said, it sparked us and gave us some life.”

As Towles, who has three touchdowns and 10 interceptions against league opponents this season, has struggled, the discussion about bringing in Barker has been louder.

“Drew’s going to get his opportunity and if he takes it and runs with it then we’ll know from there,” Stoops said, adding that decisions about which quarterback will start versus Louisville will come after the Charlotte game.

Similar to what the staff has done with Towles, Barker will be allowed to play through some mistakes, Stoops said.

“He’s not going to have a short leash,” Stoops said of Barker, who was 2-for-5 for 3 yards and the interception after leading the scoring drive. “He will have the opportunity to go out there and go through some ups and downs and play throughout the game.

“Whether Patrick gets in or not, I can’t answer that. We’ll see. He’ll prepare that way. That’s for sure.”

After the Vanderbilt loss, Barker sounded optimistic about the future and that the Cats can bounce back and win their final two games to gain bowl eligibility.

“I have 100 percent confidence in this team, that we can bounce back,” Barker said. “We’re really talented. We just haven’t put it all together yet in a full game.”

Now it’s his turn to see if he can help turn around the UK offensive woes in time to turn the season.

“Let’s see what he can do with it,” Stoops said. “I’m excited to watch him play.”

Montgomery injures other knee

Kentucky’s Alexander Montgomery, who had barely bounced back from rehabbing a knee injury from two seasons ago, was dealt a hard blow this weekend when doctors confirmed he injured his other knee in the game at Vanderbilt.

“Alex unfortunately did get another significant injury in the opposite leg that he hurt two years ago,” Stoops said. “I think he just injured his left knee — he injured his knee.”

A few weeks ago, Montgomery admitted that during his low points after the first knee surgery, he pondered giving up football.

“I told myself if I get another knee injury like that, I’d probably hang it up ’cause it took me, what, two years to come back?” Montgomery said in October. “I didn’t want to rehab for the first one. I was skipping rehab; I didn’t want to do it. It hurt too bad.”

▪  Offensive lineman Cole Mosier did not make the trip to Vanderbilt because of a head injury sustained late last week in practice.

All eyes on 2016 class

Kentucky had a slew of de-commitments after losing six straight games last season.

Does a similar five-game losing streak have Stoops worrying about the UK class, rated No. 18 in the nation by Rivals.com?

While Stoops acknowledged that there’s always a concern about keeping classes intact and that “certainly when you lose some games it doesn't help you in that front,” the coach sounded confident that the 2016 group was in good shape.

“I feel very good about the nucleus of this group, very good,” Stoops said of the class, which includes a core of Kentucky-based stars including Drake Jackson (Woodford County), Landon Young (Lafayette), Davonte Robinson (Henry Clay) and Kash Daniel (Paintsville).

“If you look across college football, there's going to be some (de-commitments). And when some happens, let's not panic. We'll be OK. We are recruiting quite a few players right now. So I feel very good about the nucleus of what we have recruited.”

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

Saturday

7:30 p.m.: Charlotte at Kentucky (SEC Network)

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