In addition to my column, three more things from Kentucky’s 62-42 win over New Mexico State on Saturday:
1. Stephen Johnson to the rescue
It’s often an appropriate time to hit the panic button when you are off to an 0-2 start and your starting quarterback is injured and must come out after the very first drive of the game. Such was the case Saturday, when Drew Barker apparently suffered a leg injury on the second play and never returned.
No matter. In came Stephen Johnson, and all the juco transfer did was complete 17 of 22 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran the football 10 times for 51 yards, showing both excellent scrambling ability and good decision-making on zone read plays.
What impressed the coaches the most about Johnson, whose only previous action was in the final 22 minutes of UK’s 45-7 loss last week at Florida?
“His demeanor and taking care of the football,” said quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw. “He was very poised.”
“Stephen’s confidence was through the roof after we scored that first touchdown,” said tight end C.J. Conrad, who caught three touchdown passes.
Does this mean we have a quarterback controversy? Probably not. We don’t know the extent of Barker’s injury, other than he was taken to the hospital for tests Saturday. But it’s doubtful that the sophomore, who has been the No. 1 quarterback since the end of spring drills, would lose his job through injury so soon.
2. A one-two punch in the run game
Junior running back Boom Williams finished with 181 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. True freshman running back Benny Snell rushed for 136 yards and four touchdowns on 17 carries.
Better yet, the duo formed a one-two punch in Kentucky’s running game. As we know, Williams is a slasher, with lots of speed and plenty of big-play ability. Snell is more of a grinder, a straight-ahead runner who bounces off tackles. Many of the freshman’s runs were behind center Jon Toth, and Snell turned those holes into significant gains.
“That’s what he showed us all training camp,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said. “He did an outstanding job.”
Snell was subbing for senior Jojo Kemp, who was held out because of an ankle injury. Gran said afterward that he had hoped to work Mikel Horton into the game more and plans to do in the future.
3. Now comes an important stretch
It’s back to SEC play as South Carolina visits Commonwealth Stadium next Saturday night for a 7:30 game. The Gamecocks are 2-1 overall and 1-1 in the conference. Will Muschamp’s club plays good defense, but it’s a game Kentucky has a chance to win.
After an Oct. 1 trip to Alabama, the Cats return home for two more games that figure to be competitive. Vanderbilt visits Oct. 8. Mississippi State comes to town Oct. 22. The South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State games will tell a lot about how this Kentucky season plays out.
To have a chance at winning those games, however, the Cats have to improve on defense. Simple as that. UK has allowed 500 or more yards in each of its first three games. That can’t continue.
Kentucky’s 2016 football schedule
New Mexico St.