UK Football

Barker still an unknown heading into Louisville game

Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker ran off the field after Kentucky defeated Charlotte at Commonwealth Stadium on Nov. 21, 2015.
Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker ran off the field after Kentucky defeated Charlotte at Commonwealth Stadium on Nov. 21, 2015. cbertram@herald-leader.com

Many Kentucky fans who braved the bitter cold and blustery wind stuck around to see how the Cats’ new quarterback would play.

But thanks to that bitter cold and wind — as well as Charlotte’s defensive formations — those fans mostly ended up watching Drew Barker hand the ball off to the UK running backs instead.

So going into a major rivalry game against Louisville on Saturday, Barker is still a bit of an unknown commodity.

He has thrown just one pass longer than 25 yards. The redshirt freshman quarterback, who earned his first start versus the 49ers last week, has now completed 29 of 48 pass attempts (60.4 percent) for 236 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.

“He’s more and more comfortable,” Coach Mark Stoops said of Barker. “He needs more reps. With his first start I was pleased with what I saw.”

Even with the less than ideal conditions, offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said he tried to challenge Barker when possible.

“There were times we forced the pass just to work on it,” Dawson said after the 58-10 victory over Charlotte. “There was one series for sure where we threw it three times in a row and we got the turnover down there. So really I just wanted to throw it.

“I wanted to throw it three times in a row and just work on it. Didn’t work out too well for us, but we got a field goal.”

In the second half, Barker threw just three passes, completing none. For the game, he connected on 16 of 29 pass attempts for 129 yards.

The Cats went with what the Charlotte defense was giving them, turning it into one of the strongest rushing performances in school history, with Jojo Kemp and Boom Williams leading the way.

“First half, I think we threw it 26 times, which I mean, really, we ran 51 plays, so that was — the way they were playing, that was probably too many — really they (weren’t) going to let us sit there and throw vertical,” Dawson said of Charlotte, which played its safeties back most of the game.

Barker likely will get some opportunities against a Louisville defense that has allowed nine touchdowns through the air in the last three games (with just two interceptions). On the season, the Cardinals have allowed 21 throwing TDs with 15 picks.

What little the Cats coaches saw of their new quarterback, they liked.

“I thought he did a good job,” Stoops said Monday. “He looked very comfortable back there. He was poised.”

Both coaches seemed to like that Barker was willing to take some chances, including a last-second, unscripted flip to tight end C.J. Conrad with the Charlotte defense swarming.

“We kind of talked about that last week, get out there and play ball,” Dawson said of the flip. “There’s no perfect play. And if people want it to be about the plays, it’s not about the plays. It’s about players. Make it work. That’s the reality of it.”

After the win, Barker said that play was “a little natural thing.

“I guess it was just one of those moments where it was just like, ‘Oh, no. What are you doing?’” Barker laughed. “I didn’t get to see the replay, but I heard that he could’ve gotten a lot more yards out of it. Everybody was bugging him on the sidelines.”

Keeping it clean

Don’t expect there to be any pregame shenanigans from either side this season the way there was when Kentucky and Louisville met last season at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

“We just have to focus on playing football really,” Stoops said. “Really not looking forward to any of that to be honest with you.”

It is something Stoops and Louisville Coach Bobby Petrino both plan to address with their respective teams before Saturday’s game at Commonwealth Stadium.

“We don’t need to do that, we need to worry about playing football, and I will talk to the team about that,” Stoops said.

Petrino said something similar Monday at his news conference.

“None of us want to see that,” the Louisville head coach said. “That’s not how it should be in football. It’s always hard for me to understand, when there’s a big game on the line, someone going out and getting a 15-yard penalty.”

Petrino said he was proud of several of his players for the way they handled themselves after various melees broke out.

“There were some guys who were surrounded and kept their poise, got hit in the facemask and didn’t do anything back,” Petrino said. “So I was proud of the poise we had.”

News and notes

Kentucky’s Mike Edwards was named the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week on Monday. The 6-foot safety from Cincinnati intercepted his first career pass and took it 20 yards for a touchdown versus Charlotte. He had three tackles, including a tackle for loss.

▪  Stoops said he hoped that UK kicker Austin MacGinnis will be available for the Louisville game after missing the Charlotte game with an ongoing groin strain.

“We’ll see,” Stoops said Monday of the injury, which has been a game-time decision for much of the season. “Really don’t know to be honest with you. We’ll see how it feels.”

The head coach praised the kicking of walk-on kicker Miles Butler against the 49ers several times.

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

Saturday

Louisville at Kentucky

Noon (SEC Network)

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