By LARRY VAUGHT
After fumbling three times against Alabama last week, Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson has spent a lot of time in drills this week working to secure the football better against Vanderbilt Saturday.
“We’re trying to strip it every time he has the ball. I’m not gonna beat a dead horse. He knows the deal. He can’t do it anymore. It’s unacceptable. That’s the deal,” said UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran. “So we’re gonna keep coaching it and coaching it hard and he’s gotta handle it. He’s gotta take care of the rock (football).”
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops believes Johnson, who became the starter when Drew Barker went down with a back injury, will improve.
“He’s a very conscientious young man. (Alabama) is a tough group to play against. You need help. You need protection there too. Your margin is small against (Alabama). They make things very difficult for you,” Stoops said.
Johnson has been prone to fumble when he tries to extend plays instead of taking a sack. Stoops has stressed to his team that importance of protecting the ball against Vanderbilt.
“This game, the big determining factor will be turnovers. Vandy has done a nice job with that. They’re giving up yards but have done a nice job with turnovers. They’re ahead in turnover ratio and we’re last in the league at negative-seven,” Stoops said. “We stress it and coach it. If you turn it over and not play good defense that’s a recipe to get beat by anyone.
“That’s a big piece of it with Stephen. He has to know who we’re playing and where we are on the field. That was pretty clear (the second fumble) was not okay because we were in field goal range right there. Then as a play caller you try to trust your quarterback that he’ll throw it away or run it but you know only get so many opportunities to try and score but it backfired on us there.”
Stoops said because Johnson is resilient — one reason UK recruited him — he will get better.
“He has great poise. But that doesn’t mean that he can’t be affected because certainly great defenses in hostile environments have a tendency to affect all quarterbacks for the most part. So, I think how he responds, how he bounces back this week, will be a big indicator for him as he moves forward,” Stoops said.
“I’m anxious to see it. I’m very confident that he’ll bounce back and put that game behind him and put the ball security issues behind him. He’s gotta go out there and play like he can play, very poised and aggressive. We’ve got to get back to attacking and playing the type of football offensively that we’re capable of.”