After skipping the spring game last year due to renovations at Commonwealth Stadium, the Wildcats returned to action in front of their fans Saturday for the annual Blue-White game.
The Blue team won, 31-20, but as we know, the final scores in these don’t matter. Here are three things we did learn from Kentucky’s spring game.
1. Drew Barker is the guy: When asked about Barker after Saturday’s spring game, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops was simple and direct. “He will be the starter at quarterback.”
The decision should come as no surprise as Barker entered the spring as the clear favorite to win the job. But Stoops said it wasn’t until the last week of practice that Barker started to pull away from his competitor, junior college transfer Stephen Johnson II.
That was evident Saturday. Barker went 12 of 18 for 156 yards and two touchdowns. On the first touchdown, Ryan Timmons was running a deep post route and Barker hit him in stride for 64 yards and the score. The only mistake from the sophomore quarterback was an interception on a pass that should’ve never been thrown, but he followed that with a picture-perfect two-minute drive capped off by a 19-yard strike to tight end C.J. Conrad in the end zone.
As for Johnson, he struggled through the air. He finished just 4 of 11 for 36 yards against the first-team defense. However, he showed off his dual-threat capability as he rushed for 49 yards despite taking three sacks.
2. Add another RB to the mix: The first-team offense looked sharp despite the absence of star running back Stanley “Boom” Williams, who is still recovering from elbow surgery. In his place, Jojo Kemp rushed nine times for 66 yards, and Mikel Horton added 22 yards on four carries.
But the star running back wasn’t Kemp or Horton. It was little-known sophomore Sihiem King, who led all players with 95 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. If you wouldn’t have known better, you might have thought Williams was healthy. Like Williams, King is small (5-foot-9, 172 pounds) but explosive. He also showed a knack for making people miss.
Once Williams returns to action, it will be interesting to see how the coaches plan to use King. He proved Saturday he’s more than deserving of touches, but Kentucky had a crowded backfield before his rise to prominence this spring. The coaches won’t complain, though. Running back is a position, especially in the SEC, where you can’t have enough playmakers.
3. The defense still has question marks: King’s breakout performance was a good sign for the offense, but it came at the expense of the first-team defense. The defensive line was consistently beaten up front by the second-team offensive line, and they had no answer for the read-option attack.
This is a front seven that is having to replace five starters from last year, and that inexperience reared its ugly head in the spring game.
The lone bright spot up front was defensive end Denzil Ware, who played like a man possessed. The sophomore led all players with 12.5 tackles, and he single-handedly answered any questions about the team's lack of a pass rush with four sacks. Second-team offensive tackles Tate Leavitt and Ethan Wolfe were no match for Ware coming off the edge.
The starters in the secondary weren't tested often, but when they were, they responded. Sophomore cornerbacks Chris Westry and Derrick Baity combined to break up three passes on the day, and once safety Mike Edwards returns, this will likely be the strength of the defense.