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Sports Notes: Despite modest numbers, Barker came up big for Cats when it counted the most


By Glenn Osborne
KyForward sports editor

By most standards, the numbers were modest, nothing to brag about really.

Kentucky redshirt freshman Drew Barker completed 12 of 29 passes in his first collegiate start at Kentucky for just 129 yards. No interceptions, no touchdowns. Mainly, he handed the ball off on a cold, windy and wet night at Commonwealth Stadium and watched his running backs account for 415 yards on the ground and six touchdowns.

The Wildcats defeated a thoroughly out-manned Charlotte, playing its first game against a Power Five Conference opponent, by an impressive score of 58-10.

But the Conner High School product came through in ways that don’t show up on the stat sheet: Poise. Leadership. Calmness under pressure. Solid decision-making. In short, unlike the player he replaced in the lineup, Patrick Towles, does on occasion, he didn’t rattle.

And as a result, last Saturday night in Commonwealth Stadium may have been when Kentucky became Drew Barker’s team. His teammates seemed to lift their level of play, have an extra spring in their collective steps, so to speak.

In addition to playing mistake-free football, UK quarterback seemed to light a spark for the Cats in their win over Charlotte Saturday (Bill Thiry Photo)

In addition to playing mistake-free football, UK quarterback seemed to light a spark for the Cats in their win over Charlotte Saturday (Bill Thiry Photo)

“I wasn’t nervous at all,” Barker said after the game. “The only time I was nervous was in the Mississippi State game. When I got in, I was a little nervous, and the Georgia game a little bit. But ever since then, I haven’t been nervous at all.”

Unlike Towles, Barker has some swagger in his step. That confidence may make all the difference as Kentucky finds itself heading into its season-finale with Louisville Saturday in exactly the same spot it was in 12 months ago. Sitting at five wins and needed one more to qualify for a bowl.

“We were in the same situation last year, and everybody on the team last year knows the feeling that we had,” said running back Boom Williams. “We’re going to do what we have to do and give ourselves a chance to come out and win the game.”

A year ago, Bobby Petrio’s Cardinals came into the game as 12-point favorites. Despite the game being in CWS, Louisville (6-5 and coming off a 45-34 loss to Pitt) figures to be favored again this year. Kentucky put up a fight on the road last year, but Louisville came away with the 44-40 win, ending the Cats’ season.

Barker and company have a chance to reverse that this weekend. If he pulls it off, he’ll write his name in the UK football history books and the Cats will be part of postseason play for the first time since 2010. The entire narrative of the 2015 season will swing to the positive.

And it will be Barker’s team.

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If Barker keeps his hold on the quarterback spot, what becomes of Towles, the former Fort Thomas Highlands star who has thrown for over 2,000 yards this year, albeit with nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions? Always the supportive teammate, would Towles really stick around to be Barker’s backup during his senior season?

In addition, Reese Phillips has two years of eligibility left and Kentucky is bringing in some other top prospects at the position next season.

I suspect that if this season ends with Barker as the No. 1 quarterback, Towles will take the off-season to strongly reconsider his future options.

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While few expected Charlotte to mount much of a threat to the Wildcats, despite the latter’s recent struggles, not every SEC team enjoyed a cakewalk during a weekend supposedly dedicated to cupcake opponents.

Alabama was an easy winner over Charleston Southern 56-6 and Auburn trounced Idaho 56-34, but Florida needed overtime to subdue Florida Atlantic 20-14 and Georgia also went OT before topping Georgia Southern, 23-17.

Mississippi upset LSU 38-17, handing the Tigers their first three-game losing streak since 1999 and the whispers are growing louder that head coach Les Miles may be on the hot seat.

Tennessee upended Missouri and poor South Carolina lost to the Citadel to cap action in the SEC last week.

That leaves us with rivalry weekend. In addition to UK-Louisville, featured games include Alabama at Auburn, Florida State at Florida, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Texas A&M versus LSU and No. 1 Clemson at South Carolina.

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Here’s a UK tidbit I bet you didn’t know. Kentucky has won 27 consecutive games when staked to a third-quarter lead, the longest streak in the SEC. UK is 10-0 in the Mark Stoops era when holding a lead entering the fourth quarter.

The 48-point win was the largest for UK since a 77-17 win over UTEP in 2002. Williams’ total of 165 yards on the ground was the most in a single game since Randall Cobb had 170 yards against Vanderbilt in 2010.

UK’s 415 yards on the ground were the fourth-most in UK history and was the highest total since the Cats ran for 441 yards against Virginia Tech in 1974.

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Three members of the Kentucky men’s basketball team have been named to the preseason award watch list for the John R. Wooden Award for national Player of the Year.

Sophomore Tyler Ulis and freshmen Skal Labissiere and Jamal Murray were three of the 50 players tabbed to the preseason list.

The Wooden Award was chosen by a preseason poll of national college basketball experts, the list is comprised of 50 student-athletes who are the early front-runners for college basketball’s most prestigious individual honor.

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University of Louisville defensive end Sheldon Rankins will participate in the 2016 Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama.

The game announced the first group of players to accept invitations to the 67th game, set to be played Jan. 30 at Mobile’s Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. in Mobile’s Ladd-Peebles Stadium and the contest will be nationally-televised by the NFL Network.

Rankins, a third-team All-ACC selection last season, has started 11 games at defensive end as the Cardinals are once again one of the top 15 defenses in the country.


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