By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky starting quarterback Drew Barker lasted only one series against New Mexico State here Saturday night. He hurt his back and then threw an interception on the third play.
That brought on backup Stephen Johnson and he threw for 310 yards and three scores in UK’s 62-42 victory over New Mexico State.
New Mexico State coach Doug Martin, a former UK player, said his team was not surprised by what Johnson did.
“We kind of anticipated that. We thought that’s the way they would go eventually, so we worked on that all week,” Martin said.
Kentucky also rushed for 361 yards and five scores.
“I think a lot of it was just physical; we missed a lot of tackles. We got knocked off the ball a lot and again it’s an SEC team and they know we’re bigger and stronger, it’s still a challenge,” Martin said.
Johnson had played briefly at Florida a week earlier and lost one fumble. But after a shaky start on his first series, he got better and better. He ran for 51 yards and had three scoring passes to tight end C.J. Conrad.
“After the first touchdown his demeanor completely changed. He was making calls that a two-year starter makes. That second touchdown, that was a run play, but he told me, ‘Hey, I’m going to hit you on a pop pass right here.’ That’s pretty impressive for a kid that’s only played two or three games,” Conrad said.
Johnson completed 17 of 22 passes and after the game Stoops was asked if Johnson would start the next game against South Carolina.
“I don’t know what the situation is. I’m not going to make any decision like that right now, obviously, I have no idea. He’s hurt, he (Barker)has an injured back, he did go to the hospital to get it examined today,” Stoops said.
Quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw said from the moment he came to UK with offensive coordinator Eddie Gran that his job was to have multiple quarterbacks ready to play. That theory paid off Saturday.
“We’ll find out where Drew is and then we’ll reevaluate the situation from there. I’m just excited that Stephen had a good game. He came out and did what we wanted him to do and moved the offense and did everything that we want our quarterbacks doing,” Hinshaw said.
Not only was this Johnson’s first time to shine at Kentucky, but his parents, sister and brother all came from California for the game.
Johnson said he’s not worried about who will start against South Carolina.
“I don’t change anything at all, just prepare like I’ve been preparing,” Johnson said. “I’m going to go out there and act as if I’m the starter and prepare as if I’m the starter.”
After what he did Saturday, it’s hard to imagine any scenario where he won’t be the starter.
“I thought he really calmed down and made some good decisions, because early on it was a little rough and he settled in and he has a lot of poise. And that we need right now. So it was really nice to see him, he really made good decisions, what it appeared on the sideline, of when to pull it down and get some yards with his legs,” Stoops said about Johnson.
“He made some good decisions on the zone read play where he could pull it and run and made some good yards there as you could see. We did that to them and they certainly did that to us a few times and that gets aggravating when the quarterback can run it that way, he gets you a little off balance and I thought Stephen did that.
“Then when you get the run game going and we could hit the RPO and hit the guys down the middle, the tight end down the middle, and hit some guys off the run/pass options puts the team in a difficult situation.”