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Ashley Scoby: UK spring football update comes with a new quarterback controversy

Last year's starter at quarterback, Patrick Towles, outplayed Drew Barker in Saturday's open scrimmage, but head coach Mark Stoops wasn't ready to name a starter (UK Athletics Photo)

Last year’s starter at quarterback, Patrick Towles, outplayed Drew Barker in Saturday’s open scrimmage, but head coach Mark Stoops wasn’t ready to name a starter (UK Athletics Photo)


Kentucky football is much like being a fan of the Chicago Cubs: “This is our year” gets tossed around each preseason like it’s a requirement. And with head coach Mark Stoops at the helm for what will be his third season in Lexington, fans are restless for a bowl game (UK hasn’t been to one since 2010).

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The Wildcats held an open scrimmage Saturday, in lieu of the annual spring game, which was canceled because of construction at Commonwealth Stadium.

But the principles of normal scrimmages remained, and fans got to see at least an idea of what they’ll get, come fall.

Here’s an idea of what to keep an eye on, as Kentucky heads into the end of its spring camp:

The ongoing quarterback competition

It’s almost like we can’t have Kentucky football without a quarterback controversy, so here we are. Patrick Towles, last year’s starter, is competing with current freshman Drew Barker, who redshirted this season.

In Saturday’s open practice, Towles looked much better and much more in command of the offense. He threw a couple of deep balls that got the crowd oohing and aahing – one was thrown just to the inside of Blake Bone’s shoulder, and Bone twisted around and came down with the 47-yard reception.

“You gotta be able to throw the ball vertical,” Towles said afterwards. “You gotta be able to stretch them when they’re stacking the box in this league, and there was times last year we just couldn’t do that. We either didn’t have the personnel or didn’t make a good throw, but that’s definitely an emphasis of Coach Dawson’s offense.”

Barker showed a couple flashes – a completed slant here, a dip away from defensive pressure there – but overall, his performance didn’t stack up to Towles’ numbers. Barker also threw two interceptions to the same guy, after linebacker Josh Forrest jumped into coverage once, then nabbed another ball that had been tipped at the line of scrimmage.

UK head coach Mark Stoops wouldn’t exactly say if Towles was separating himself in the competition, but just from what was shown on Saturday, it’s still Towles’ position to lose heading into the fall.


While Bone and Thaddeus Snodgrass were each recipients of a Towles deep ball on Saturday, the receivers didn’t have their best day.

Especially on the first couple of series, drops plagued the receiving corps. This group will be one to watch moving forward, as Jeff Badet and Alexander Montgomery should be making their returns in the fall after injuries last season.

Tight end

If you’ve watched Kentucky football in the past seven or so years, there’s a solid chance that you’ve uttered the words, “Where are the tight ends?” before. Since Jacob Tamme graduated in 2008, UK has struggled to replace his offensive production. Enter CJ Conrad, who enrolled early this spring and will play his first season in the fall. He had a decent practice on Saturday, pulling down several receptions, and could be an offensive threat moving forward.

“You guys saw it today, have heard people talk about it this spring that he’s a guy that the sky’s the limit for him,” Stoops said. “He made some big plays today and he’s going to be a guy who plays an awful lot of snaps for us.”

Replacing Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith

It’s hard to quantify exactly how much defensive end Bud Dupree has meant to Kentucky over the past few seasons, but the end result is the same: They’ll miss him when he’s gone. Replacing fellow end Za’Darius Smith just makes the job for this year’s defensive line all the more difficult.

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Farrington Huguenin had a great scrimmage on Saturday, batting down at least two passes at the line of scrimmage, and coming up with a fumble recovery. Having him, as well as guys like Denzil Ware, continue to develop at those end spots will be crucial for Kentucky this year.

Consistency of the linebackers

Josh Forrest came down with two interceptions (both from Barker’s passes) on Saturday. And pass coverage has never been a huge problem for the rangy, quick Forrest. It’s defending against the run where he (and other UK linebackers) have occasionally struggled.

Stoops admitted that “you do see some bad plays stick out in the run game when we go live.” Getting the linebacking corps to the same level it was at when guys like Wesley Woodyard, Danny Trevathan and Braxton Kelley were at Kentucky could make or break this year’s defense.

Ashley Scoby is a senior journalism major at the University of Kentucky and a KyForward sports writer. She has reported on the Wildcats for wildcathoops.com, vaughtsviews.com andkysportsreport.com as well as for newspapers in Danville and Glasgow. She will begin a summer internship with Sports Illustrated magazine in New York in June.

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