Will Kentucky make a quarterback change?


ATHENS, Ga. — In addition to my column, three quick notes from Kentucky’s 27-3 loss at Georgia:

1. It would not surprise me if Kentucky starts Drew Barker at quarterback next Saturday at Vanderbilt. I’m not positive that is what’s going to happen, but it wouldn’t come as a shock. After Patrick Towles completed just eight of 21 passes for 96 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns, both head coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson admitted they will be re-evaluating the quarterback position.

Saturday was the third straight game in which Towles has failed to reach at least a 100 pass efficiency rating. He completed 23 of 42 passes for 218 yards and two interceptions at Mississippi State for an 88.84 rating. He was 16-of-33 for 184 yards with a touchdown and an interception last week against Tennessee for a 99.26 rating. His passer rating at Sanford Stadium was 57.45, his career-low as a starter.

One factor might keep the UK coaching staff from making a change next week. The game is on the road. It’s a 4 p.m. game in Nashville. Do you want a redshirt freshman’s first start to come in the opposing team’s stadium. True, Vanderbilt is not as an intimidating place to play as other SEC stadiums, but it is still a road game.

Ok, there’s another factor. Vanderbilt is good defensively. Since head coach Derek Mason took over the defensive coordinator duties, the Commodores have been formidable on that side of the football. Ask Florida, which escaped with a 9-7 win over Vandy in Gainesville on Saturday.

2. Special teams are killing the Cats. Last Saturday against Tennessee, Kentucky gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown and a punt return for a touchdown. A low, line-drive kick was the culprit for the kickoff return. Coverage mistakes aided the punt return.

In the first quarter Saturday against Georgia, UK committed a kick catch inference penalty that allowed the Bulldogs to start a possession at the UK 45-yard line. Georgia ended up scoring a touchdown when true freshman Terry Godwin took a direct snap, fumbled, scooped up that fumble and darted 28 yards to the end zone.

Then returner Ryan Timmons fumbled away a punt at his own 25-yard line. The Kentucky defense held Georgia to a field goal for a 10-0 lead. Still, you could make the case that special teams mistakes lead to all 10 of those points.

Later in the game, Kentucky was called for an offsides penalty that negated a UK recovery of a pop-up kickoff. In the press box, we all thought — the Herald-Leader’s Jennifer Smith; Courier-Journal’s Jon Hale; the Cats’ Pause’s Alex Forkner and Kentucky Sports Report’s Lonnie Demaree were on site covering the game — it was an on-side kick. Afterward, Mark Stoops admitted the ball was just miss-hit.

“I should have said it was my idea,” Stoops said. “It would have been the only smart thing I did all day.”

3. Going for it on fourth down. Down 10-3 at the half, UK took the second half kickoff and moved from its own 25 to a fourth-and-two at the Georgia 48-yard line. It was there that Stoops made the decision to go for the first down.

It didn’t work. Jojo Kemp took a direct snap out of the wildcat and was stopped for no gain. Georgia took over at its own 48-yard line drove 52 yards in 10 plays. Sony Michel scored on a one-yard run to make it 17-3 Bulldogs.

“Poor decision,” Stoops said later. “In hindsight, obviously, not a good choice by me.”

It was a calculated roll of the dice. Stoops’ team had been blown out the last two weeks and now it was having trouble generating any sort of offense against the Bulldogs. It was the first time all day the offense had crossed the 50-yard line on its own.

“He probably did it because we weren’t getting to the 50 much,” said offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. “I think it was a good call by him when you look at the whole scope of things. Offensively, we just weren’t moving the ball. And when you get it moving a little bit, you got to try and execute. And we didn’t. We came up a little bit short.”

This was, after all, just the third game in the Mark Stoops’ Era where UK failed to produce 200 yards of total offense. IN Stoops’ first season, the Cats gained just 173 yards against Florida and 170 yards against Alabama. Kentucky managed eight first downs Saturday, its lowest total since 2012.

(It must also be noted that UK was without Boom Williams, probably its best offensive player. Williams injured his elbow early in last Saturday’s loss to Tennessee. Stoops said he hopes to have Williams back at Vanderbilt.)

I had no problem with Stoops going for it on fourth down. It’s a feast or famine play. First down, you’re a hero. Turn it over on downs, you’re a zero.

“Certainly, I wanted to get us a spark. I felt like we needed a spark,” Stoops said. “As you could tell, possessions were going to be very tough for us. I went for it there and it didn’t work and it wasn’t a very smart decision for me.”

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