The big news coming out of Mark Stoops’ press luncheon on Monday was easily the decision to give redshirt freshman Drew Barker his first collegiate start at quarterback Saturday when Kentucky plays Charlotte at 7:30 p.m. at Commonwealth Stadium.
It was Barker who led the Cats on their first offensive drive for a touchdown in last Saturday’s 21-17 loss at Vanderbilt. The former Conner High School entered the game with 12:18 left in the second quarter and promptly hit Jeff Badet on a 42-yard pass. Four plays later, Barker found Ryan Timmons for an eight-yard touchdown to give the Cats a 10-7 lead.
Of course, on the next possession, Barker threw a pick-six to Vanderbilt’s Oren Burks, who returned the interception 30 yards to put Vanderbilt back in front 14-10. For the game, Barker completed five of eight passes for 60 yards with the one score and the one pick. Starter Patrick Towles, who returned to the game after Barker’s stint, ended up just 10 of 26 for 67 yards with one interception.
So now it’s Barker’s turn and Stoops indicated that the new starter will get an extended term. Barker, said the coach, will be allowed to play through the ups and downs. There won’t be a short leash. Stoops said he feels like Barker is ready for the opportunity and is anxious to see what he can do with it.
Really, you have to think that Stoops is looking for something, anything to stop his once 4-1 team from going in reverse. For the second straight season, his team has started fast -- 5-1 last season; 4-1 this season -- only to fade terribly in the stretch. Last year, the Cats finished with a six-game losing streak. This year, the current losing streak stands at five.
The offense has been a problem, no doubt. Kentucky failed to score a touchdown in the 27-3 loss to Georgia. The Cats had first-and-goals inside the Vanderbilt five on two different possessions last Saturday and failed to score a point. Despite his 21 consecutive starts, Towles has been erratic and inconsistent. True, the junior hasn’t always benefited from the best protection, but too many of his throws have been off target, too often he has grown tentative or panicked in the pocket.
So now Barker gets his chance. Barker has a live arm and he can run the football. He also seems more willing to take chances. Stoops talked about his “quick decision-making” last week. Sometimes with a young quarterback, that can be good. Sometimes with a young quarterback, that can be bad. Stoops indicated he wants Barker to play through the good and bad.
The head coach said he hoped also the fans would show up Saturday night. Seeing Barker might be a reason to come Saturday but I’m guessing most of the fan base will do that from the comfort of home, on the couch, in front of the big screen.