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UK QB Stephen Johnson banged up but expected to play against Ole Miss Saturday

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Stephen Johnson is banged up but Mark Stoops expects his starting quarterback to be back in the pocket when the Wildcats take on Ole Miss Saturday.

“He definitely is very sore,” Stoops said. “I saw him Sunday. He was beat up. He was beat up pretty good.

Johnson injured his shoulder in the third quarter but later returned and scored the decisive touchdown on on 11-yrd run with 33 seconds remaining to lift Kentucky to a 29-26 triumph over Tennessee last weekend. Johnson’s late heroics helped the Wildcats (6-2, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) become bowl eligible with four games remaining in the regular season.

“You just have to admire Stephen and his toughness and his determination,” Stoops said Monday. “It doesn’t surprise any of us. I think he was kind of mad that he had to go in (the locker room), but he certainly — We had to make sure we checked him out. We felt like it was an injury that Jim (Madaleno) had a good idea of what it was, but you have to go in and check it to see to what degree and make sure there aren’t other issues.”

Although the Wildcats will be playing in the postseason for the second consecutive season, Stoops doesn’t want his team to become complacent just because they achieve one of the team goals for this season.

“We all remember how difficult it is and it wasn’t that long ago when we were scrapping to get six wins just to go,” he said. “So I don’t think you should ever just take that for granted. I think that’s when a lot of issues start popping up across the board in your program and the culture of your program. So we never want to take going to a bowl game for granted. We know how difficult it is and how quickly things can go the other way.”

Even though Kentucky earned a rare win over the Volunteers — the second in more than three decades — Stoops knows the Wildcats have to improve in both phases of the game, especially offensively. Kentucky had four turnovers — all fumbles — that could have been disastrous.

“It concerned us going into it, we addressed it, we talked about it, especially on a cold night,” he said. “That ball gets dry; it gets slippery. We talked about it. We emphasized it. Obviously coach (Eddie) Gran and our offensive coaches have done a great job all year of teaching that and emphasizing that, and we got to get back to it. We will address it, we’ll talk about it, we’ll stress it and then we have to move on and have the confidence that we’ll take care of the football.”

Stoops liked the way Benny Snell recovered after losing a fumble on his first carry against the Volunteers. Snell finished with 180 yards rushing — a season high — and scored three touchdowns. Overall, the Wildcats rushed for 289 yards against Tennessee’s struggling defense.

“I talk about that all the time, needing to run the football,” Stoops said. “You have to be able to do it. We all know we want to throw the football effectively, and we will, but you have to be able to run the ball. And certainly that opens up a lot of options, and that helped us.

“It was important for Benny to get on track. And I think, just like I sat up here last week and talked about it, you saw that. Benny played his best game by far. He was much more detailed and much more accurate in what he was doing, both in running the football and his protections. I think the offensive line was more consistent, and we had great play out of our tight ends.”

Snell, Jones honored: Snell was named co-offensive player of the week by the SEC Monday, while teammate Jordan Jones was named the league’s co-defensive player of the week.

Jones collected 13 tackles, a season and game-high in the win over Tennessee last week. He added a pair of tackles for a loss and a sack. The outing was the fifth for double-digit tackle game for the junior linebacker.

Game time set: Kentucky’s game at Vanderbilt on Nov. 11 will be at 4 p.m. and televised on the SEC Network.

Gametracker: Ole Miss at Kentucky, Saturday, 4 p.m. TV/Radio: SEC Network, 98.1 FM, WBUL.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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