UK 'Just Gonna Play Ball' behind Barker

Shannon Dawson will be taking a redshirt freshman making his second career start into a rivalry game with a bowl berth on the line.

To make the situation even more trying, the archrival in question – Louisville – features a defense known for its ability to harass opposing quarterbacks.

That means Dawson is definitely going to be protecting Drew Barker, right?

Wrong.

He trusts his guy.

"We're just gonna play ball,” Dawson said. “He's pretty loose out there. We're just gonna go with what we see."

What Dawson saw in Barker’s starting debut was a running game that had its way with Charlotte and conditions not conducive to throwing the football. Accordingly, Barker was limited to 29 pass attempts, and only three after halftime.

Considering everything, Dawson was pleased with his signal caller.

"I thought he graded out well,” Dawson said. “He did a really good job of two things, in my opinion. Third and medium was an emphasis for us. Just sitting in the pocket, triggering it, and he did it. I thought he did a good job there, and then when things broke down, he did a good job of keeping the play alive and improvising.”

More importantly for Barker, the game gave him a chance to put a full 60 minutes on tape. That’s been invaluable in his preparation for the Cardinals.

“I’m really just trying to take practice reps like game-speed reps,” Barker said. “That full game really helped out, getting more comfortable back there. Maybe you don’t have to get rid of the ball so fast or maybe you have to get rid of it faster than you think.”

Barker cited one specific third-down example from the Charlotte game of when he released too quickly. The 49ers showed blitz, but backed off and Barker threw to his first read rather than moving to his second knowing he had more time to throw.

Louisville – which has 42 sacks on the season – figures to apply plenty of similar tests. That’s why UK’s defense is playing the way it has in practice this week.

“They’re definitely trying to give me every possible look that I could see from their defense,” Barker said. “Film study is really big in that as well. So just making sure, watching enough film and our scout team giving us a good look. It’s been good so far.”

Nothing, however, will compare to the real Governor’s Cup deal. The Burlington, Ky., native is well aware of that fact.

“Since I’m from Kentucky, I’ve definitely been around it my whole life,” Barker said. “It’s a pretty cool thing that I’m going to be a part of it.”