'Now It's Drew's Turn:' Barker Named Starting QB

Drew Barker has been Kentucky’s backup quarterback throughout the 2015 season, but that hasn’t stopped Mark Stoops from coaching the redshirt freshman.

One conversation months ago came to mind for Stoops at his weekly press conference on Monday.

“I told him a long time ago that he needs to worry about himself and prepare to be the best quarterback he can get and sooner or later – I pointed at the stadium as we were meeting in my office – ‘You’re going to get this opportunity in here, and what you do with it is up to you,’ ” Stoops said.

The opportunity will come on Saturday. Stoops announced that Barker will take over as UK’s starting quarterback this weekend’s matchup with Charlotte.

“We’ve been talking about this for a long time and a lot of times it comes to players around him making plays and doing things for the quarterback, but it’s time for Drew to get the start,” Stoops said. “That’s the bottom line. He’s done some good things. He’s earned the right and he’s going to start this week.”

The decision comes after a loss to Vanderbilt in which season-long starter Patrick Towles started and finished the game, while Barker took the reins for three second-quarter series.

“It was good to get him some more reps and to get him some more game experience,” Stoops said. “He went in there in the first possession and gave us a little spark. Led us down the field for a touchdown. It was good to see.”

As Stoops said, Barker led a touchdown drive on his first series, hitting Jeff Badet for a 42-yard completion on the first play and finishing it with a seven-yard strike to Ryan Timmons to give UK a short-lived 10-7 lead. Barker threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown on the following drive and finished his day completing 5-of-8 passes for 60 yards and rushing for another 26. On the season, Barker has completed 13-of-19 passes for 107 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Towles played the entirety of the second half, but was unable to complete a comeback from 21-10 deficit.

“I’ve always told you, and it’s been true, I’ve started the guy that we believe gave us the best opportunity to win,” Stoops said. “Now it’s Drew’s turn.”

That means Barker will not be on a “short leash” in making the start. Just like it was for Towles until the Vandy game – when the plan was to play both quarterbacks – the job is Barker’s.

“He will have the opportunity to go out there and go through some ups and downs and play throughout the game,” Stoops said. “Whether Patrick gets in or not, I can’t answer that. We’ll see. He’ll prepare that way. That’s for sure.”

Not surprisingly, Stoops said both Barker and Towles handled the news well. Hammering the point home, Towles tweeted his support of Barker early Monday afternoon.

"Can't wait to see (Barker) ball out on Saturday!" Towles wrote. "I'm behind you 100%! #ALLIN

Barker lost preseason quarterback competitions with Towles in fall camp each of the past two seasons, but came to Lexington with a four-star recruiting ranking and having served a key cog in making UK’s record-setting 2014 class a reality. The leadership he displayed in serving in an unofficial capacity as a member of UK’s recruiting staff would seem to bode well for a quarterback at the college level.

“I feel that he’s waiting to take some leadership and to get this opportunity,” Stoops said. “I know he’s been anxious, as he should be. As I said throughout the year, I really like the way he’s been preparing, I like the way he’s been practicing and getting ready.”

Barker had to wait his turn as many of the classmates he helped bring to Lexington have stepped into featured roles, but no more.

“I told him yesterday, I know it took a little longer than he anticipated to truly get the keys to the car but he has them now,” Stoops said. “So, let’s see what he can do with it. I’m excited to watch him play.”