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Mark Zerof | USA Today[/caption]
At the end of last season, as Patrick Towles' time as a Kentucky Wildcat was coming to an end, the talk of the town was how this was going to be Drew Barker's program now. It was his time to take over and be the hyped-up player he was supposed to be when Stoops and company recruited him out of Conner High School in Northern Kentucky.
For the first half of the Southern Miss game this season, the hype looked to be the real deal. Barker was playing great, hitting receivers in stride and making smart decisions. Then, something changed. He started to take unnecessary chances, most notably on a long throw down the right side of the field that was an easy interception for Southern Miss. Then the Florida debacle happened and the fan-base began to groan about inconsistent quarterback play for what seemed like the 20th season in a row. Those complaints grew louder as Barker threw a pick in his first drive against New Mexico State. NMSU was a team that Barker should have been able to shred with his passing ability, but an injury forced him out of the game(maybe for the season).
Enter Stephen Johnson.
Johnson played really well in his first real action as a Wildcat. He threw for 310 yards, completing 17 of his 22 attempted passes for 3 TDs, to go along with 51 yards on the ground. The Cats got the W, 62-42. Stephen Johnson was 1-0 as the Kentucky quarterback.
South Carolina came to town the following week, and Johnson's stats dropped pretty hard. He completed 11 of 19 passes for only 135 yards and one pick. He only ran for 6 yards on 13 attempts, and fumbled the ball twice. The game really resembled the last time South Caroline visited Commonwealth Stadium in 2014 where the passing game took a back seat to a very run-heavy offense. The Cats ran for 216 yards and two scores to get the 17-10 victory over the Gamecocks. Stephen Johnson was 2-0 as the Kentucky quarterback.
Johnson's struggles didn't stop there. The Cats traveled to Tuscaloosa to take on the best team in the country. The Crimson Tide were going to have their way with the Wildcats, regardless of the effort given by Stephen Johnson. The beginning of the game was promising, though. As Kentucky ran up a commanding 3-0 lead, forced a turnover, and were driving again. The turnover bug bit again, as Johnson fumbled and Alabama took over the drive and the rest of the game. The JUCO transfer went 13/22 for 89 yards, was sacked 4 times for -26 yards, and lost two of his three fumbles. Stephen Johnson lost his first game as the Kentucky quarterback, moving to 2-1.
The game against Vanderbilt is probably when the Stephen Johnson doubters were the most vocal. Johnson threw for only 49 yards on 10 of 24 passing, with an interception. He ran for 55 yards, one of four UK players with 50+ rushing yards on the afternoon. The defense didn't allow a touchdown, as the Cats got the 20-13 victory. Johnson may have struggled through the air mightily, but he madd the right decisions on check-downs and QB scrambles to put the Wildcats in position to win. Stephen Johnson moved to 3-1 as the Kentucky quarterback.
The bye week brought out the news that Johnson had been battling a wrist injury for a few weeks. Most were hoping that the week off would bring him back to 100% and we'd start to see some of the fantastic passing we saw against New Mexico State.
The first half of last night's game, we saw more of the same from Stephen Johnson. A few guys were missed on open routes down the field and Kentucky went into halftime down 14-6. The third quarter began and we all saw the big plays we had been missing out of Stephen Johnson. He connected on two long touchdown passes to Jeff Badet, one for 44 yards, while the other went for 40. The excitement and confidence was back with the UK offense. The Cats were about to put the game away as they drove deep into the red zone again, when Johnson lost his second fumble of the game, this one was returned for a score. But, he didn't get rattled. Johnson kept a calm head and made plays down the stretch to put Austin MacGinnis in position to kick the winning field goal, including a big two big completions to Jeff Badet for 12 and 18 yards. Johnson finished with 292 yards through the air for two touchdowns and 20 yards rushing. Kentucky gets the big win over Mississippi State by the score of 40-38.
Looking back at his stats over five games, Stephen Johnson is averaging 175 yards passing per game, with five touchdowns through the air. This goes along with a rushing touchdown, as well. Johnson has just two picks, but has fumbled the ball 7 times in the past five games. Those numbers aren't exactly something to write home about. But if those numbers have been enough to put UK in position to win, how much can we complain? I love the saying, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. While the Stephen Johnson led Wildcats aren't a well-oiled machine, they are a successfully functioning machine. Will a better team take advantage of this level of play in a close game? Maybe. Will this level of play work in every game down the stretch? Maybe not. But for now, it is working. And for a program that has struggled for years, wins are wins. He's not perfect, but Stephen Johnson is 4-1 as the Kentucky quarterback.
Go Cats. Beat Missouri.