By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky’s Blue-White Game Saturday gave fans their final chance to see Mark Stoops’ fourth UK team until the season opens in September.
The biggest takeaway from the game is that Stoops said Drew Barker came out of spring as the No. 1 quarterback. He was 12 of 18 passing for 156 yards and two scores with one interception Saturday.
“Drew has been consistent the whole spring. He needs to stay consistent with his approach in way he is handling everything on and off the field,” Stoops said.
Then he said Barker was the starting quarterback coming out of spring practice.
Here are a few takeaways from my observation point:
— Linebacker Denzil Ware could be the big playmaker the defense needs. He had three sacks and nine tackles by midway of the second quarter. His tenacity and instincts were impressive to watch. He finished with 15 tackles, four sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss.
“Denzil really had some good rushes. That is what you like to see when you are in predictable passing plays and are playing straight up. You need to win one on one battles and he won several,” Stoops said.
— Quarterback Stephen Johnson is going to continue to push Barker for the starting spot and UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran may have to revise his thinking on not wanting to play two quarterbacks. Johnson showed off all his speed and elusiveness and is exactly the type of quarterback UK’s defense has had trouble stopping for years. He ran for 49 yards but was just 4-for-11 passing for 36 yards.
“Stephen has done a good job from when he got here until now. The competition starts again in the fall,” quarterback coach Darrin Hinshaw said. “I would like him at about 195 pounds when season starts. He is about 184 now. He has gained the right kind of muscle. You can see shoulders getting stronger. He is long so the muscular part of his arms won’t just beef up over night. But I am proud of him.”
— Sophomore running back Sihiem King drew praise from Stoops all spring and it was easy to see why. He’s small, but tough. He always falls forward and has an explosive, quick burst. He ran for 84 yards and one score on nine carries and could be just what Stoops and Gran need to help keep sophomore Boom Williams more focused on the field this season.
“What I really like is he has good vision. We know he has ability in the open field with space. His vision on the inside runs was really good to see,” Stoops said.
— Linebacker Jordan Jones is UK’s energy guy on defense and played like that again. He had eight tackles, including one tackle for loss. “Jordan has been playing like that every day. Great energy, Great passion. Really has very good instincts for a guy that has not played that much. Really explosive,” Stoops said.
— Tight end C.J. Conrad made a solid 19-yard touchdown catch with contact to end a 10-p lay, 75-yard drive during the two-minute drill to end the first half. Stoops liked what he saw from Conrad, who had three catches for 29 yards.
“That was very big (the touchdown catch). It was also nice to see him on a simple bootleg early (catch the ball) and he’s had few drops on those. To see routine plays made and then big play in end zone in traffic was big,” Stoops said.
— Sophomore cornerback Chris Westry continues to be a shutdown defender and had two pass breakups. Stoops said even Saturday when the ball was thrown on his side of the field, he expected it to be incomplete.
“He just needs to continue to work. He is such a big guy and so long. He has to constantly work his fundamentals. In game-like situations, we had to stay on him and push him because he has to fundamentally play good to be at an elite level. He takes hard coaching. But he still has to have a great summer,” Stoops said.
— Freshman quarterback Gunnar Hoak showed a strong arm and also excellent decision making most of the time. His best play was a rollout where he stopped, waited and hit Jeff Badet for a score. He was 4-for-5 passing for 57 yards and the score on his first series. Hinshaw said he liked what he saw and no decision on Hoak — or any player — redshirting would be made until after the season started.
— Kentucky had three Rivals.com top 100 recruits — Lafayette offensive lineman Jedrick Wills, North Carolina linebacker Justin Foster and Ohio receiver JaVonte Richardson, a UK commit in the 2017 class. Belfry lineman Austin Dotson, another 2017 commit, was also on the field before the game along with Alex King and Walker Wood, the quarterback at Lafayette.
Kentucky signee Landon Young, another Lafayette player, was also at the game and gave Stoops a big hug before the game. He also found time to sign autographs and take pictures with UK fans.