By LARRY VAUGHT
After waiting two years to become Kentucky’s top quarterback, Drew Barker is going to be out at least the next three to four weeks — and maybe longer — because of a lingering back injury from this summer that no one at UK had disclosed until he went out after three plays against New Mexico State last week.
“The bottom line is Drew will be out. He has an injury that does not require surgery at this point in time, and he will be out for a significant amount of time,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said after practice Wednesday. “I have no idea how long that’ll be. When I say significant, he’s out for the foreseeable future, the next two, three, four weeks. After that we’ll re-evaluate him and see where he’s at.
“He saw a specialist. His mother, his father, Drew, (trainer) Jim Madaleno and our doctors are all on the same page, and they believe the best treatment is rest right now and some treatment, and the best idea for him is non-operative at this point in time. If that changes, I’ll let you know. When he gets back out on the field, I’ll let you know. But he is out for a significant amount of time.”
Barker started the final two games of last season and all three this year. He had thrown for 334 yards with four touchdowns — all against Southern Mississippi — and five interceptions. Based on Stoops’ timetable, Barker’s best scenario would be to return when UK hosts Mississippi State Oct. 22 after missing three games and a bye week.
“We’ll get him some medicine, get him some treatment, get him some rest and see,” Stoops said.
So is there really a chance he will play this year?
“I’ll answer that because I know everybody’s going to bring it up and speculate. The plan is, and Drew’s on board, his parents are on board, our docs are on board that he will be out a significant amount of time. Again, what that is at least three, four, five weeks. At that point in time, we’ll see,” Stoops said.
“You don’t know how the back’s going to respond at this point. So we will re-evaluate it, but we’re certainly not going to re-evaluate it for at least three weeks or so. And so I have no idea whether he’ll be able to come back and play this year or not.”
Stoops said Barker was naturally disappointed after he had worked to become the starter.
“I really feel for him because he’s put a lot of time and energy and work to get in this position. So that’s tough on him. He did do some very good things in Game 1, in Game 2 he got hit early, and that hit bothered him. He’s not one, and we’re not one to make an excuse for him, but it’s a fact. It’s a legitimate serious injury,” Stoops said.
“He’s not just a quarterback who took a shot. I don’t know if that gave him the injury, but it certainly bothered him after that and probably was a big part of the reason why he played the way he did (at Florida).”
Stephen Johnson obviously will the starter against South Carolina Saturday night after his sparkling play in relief of Barker against New Mexico State when he led UK to 62 points and almost 700 yards of total offense.
Stoops indicated Monday that true freshman Gunnar Hoak would be No. 2 if Barker could not play. He said again Wednesday that they were preparing Hoak to play.
“Just like Stephen always prepared as the backup, he would as well. Gunnar will prepare to be the backup quarterback. If Stephen goes down, Gunnar will go in. And Luke (Wright) will be available as well,” Stoops said.
Stoops said on the SEC coaches teleconference earlier Wednesday that he was confident Johnson would play well against New Mexico State but was not expecting him to throw for 310 yards and three touchdowns.
“We knew he’d shown signs in practice of being very efficient at running the offense. He’s a very consciences kid, he works extremely hard, he wants to perform well for his team and he has some talent. So you knew he’d be good, but to see him play that well, I don’t know if I saw that coming,” Stoops said.
“You take that first series away and he was unbelievably efficient. The first series you could see the jitters, he was a little nervous, and the next series he settles in. Of course, the run game helped settle him in a little bit. But he went out there and just operated the offense and was very comfortable and very poised and efficient.”