Sidelines with John Clay

Drew Barker’s status and more takeaways from Mark Stoops’ Monday press conference

Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker (7) was taken off the field after being injured in the first series during UK’s 62-42 win over New Mexico State at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, September 17, 2016.
Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker (7) was taken off the field after being injured in the first series during UK’s 62-42 win over New Mexico State at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, September 17, 2016. Lexington Herald-Leader

Three things from Mark Stoops’ weekly Monday press conference:

1. Drew Barker’s status sounds questionable at best

Stoops was vague about the status of sophomore quarterback, who left Saturday’s win over New Mexico State after just one series. Barker is dealing with a back problem. Turns out it’s a lingering back problem that started in the summer and returned in the 45-7 loss at Florida. Barker has had an MRI. Stoops said the quarterback will talk with doctors and specialists before moving forward.

None of that sounds good. It would sound even worse had not backup Stephen Johnson played so well last Saturday. The juco transfer completed 17 of 22 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. He also ran the ball 10 time for 52 yards. He was the quarterback on all seven of UK’s touchdown drives.

“I thought he was really exceptional,” Stoops said Monday. “After that first possession, I thought he settled in and had an exceptional game.”

It’s a long week until Saturday’s game with South Carolina, but as of now the educated guess is that we will be seeing a lot of Johnson at the helm against the Gamecocks.

2. Fixable versus work in progress

After three games, Kentucky’s defense ranks 122nd out of 128 FBS teams in yards allowed per game. Sun Belt Conference member New Mexico State piled up 500 yards in a losing cause Saturday. The Aggies became the fourth straight team, dating to last year’s Louisville game, to rush for at least 200 yards on the Cats. Seven of UK’s last nine foes have gained at least 200 yards on the ground.

Monday, Stoops differentiated between things that “can be fixed” on defense and things that are a “work in progress.” The fixes deal mainly with assignment and technique errors. There were plenty of those Saturday, especially in the secondary, according to the coach. The “work in progress” problems are more long-term. There are experience and personnel problems. Those will take longer to solve.

Stoops admitted that the Cats must get better play from the interior line on defense. True freshman T.J. Carter is coming along, Stoops said. Sophomore Adrian Middleton is doing some good things. Asked about junior Matt Elam, Stoops said the nose guard is a good fit in the three-man front, not so much when UK plays a four-man front against spread teams. Stoops said Elam, who didn’t see a whole lot of playing time Saturday, should play more this Saturday against South Carolina. But the coach did admit that juco transfer Naquez Pringle has been more active at the position.

3. What about South Carolina?

The Gamecocks bring a 2-1 overall record and a 1-1 SEC mark into Saturday night’s game, which will be televised on the SEC Network. New coach Will Muschamp opened with a 13-10 road win at Vanderbilt before losing 27-14 at Mississippi State. In Muschamp’s home opener on Saturday, South Carolina held off East Carolina 20-15 by intercepting one pass in the end zone and another at the one-yard line.

Muschamp and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, the latter a former UK assistant under Rich Brooks, went with true freshman quarterback Brandon McIlwain against ECU. The Newtown, Pa., native completed 16 of 28 passes for 195 yards without a touchdown or an interception. He also ran the ball for 34 yards and two scores on nine attempts.

Stoops said he expects Muschamp to go with McIlwain on Saturday and for the Gamecocks to build off the freshman’s strengths. It should be noted, however, that East Carolina outgained South Carolina 519-312. And the early odds have stamped Kentucky a two-point favorite on Saturday night.

Q&A: Entire transcript of Mark Stoops press conference on Sept. 19, 2016

Last 10 Kentucky-South Carolina games

Date

Opponent

UK

Opp

Dec

10/7/06

South Carolina

17

24

L

10/4/07

@South Carolina

23

38

L

10/11/08

South Carolina

17

24

L

10/10/09

@South Carolina

26

28

L

10/16/10

South Carolina

31

28

W

10/8/11

@South Carolina

3

54

L

9/29/12

South Carolina

17

38

L

10/5/13

@South Carolina

28

35

L

10/4/14

South Carolina

45

38

W

9/12/15

@South Carolina

26

22

W

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