UK Instant Analysis | Offense shines for Cats – The Courier-Journal

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Video | UK head coach Mark Stoops breaks down the spring game
Jon Hale/The C-J

LEXINGTON, Ky. – A Blue team made up mostly of UK starters on offense and defense held to script with a 31-20 win in the 2016 spring game, but it was the offense that generally impressed most in the conclusion to spring practice. Quarterbacks Drew Barker and Stephen Johnson each had their moments despite a limited playbook. Positives for the defense were harder to come by.

Offensive MVP: Sophomore quarterback Drew Barker led the first-team offense to a 17-13 lead at halftime, completing 12 of 18 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns and one interception. He also gained 12 yards on four carries. Barker’s lone mistake of the afternoon came on an interception down the sideline that may actually have been dropped by cornerback Jared Tucker. His two touchdown passes made up for that error, though: A strike to Ryan Timmons over the middle and a perfect pass to C.J. Conrad in traffic in the end zone. UK head coach Mark Stoops confirmed after the scrimmage Barker is currently the starting quarterback.

Defensive MVP: The most experienced front-seven player on the first-team defense looked the part Saturday. Sophomore outside linebacker Denzil Ware, who started 11 of 12 games as a redshirt freshman, totaled 15 tackles, including 10 solo ones, 4.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. While the sack number may have a slight asterisk considering defenders did not actually have to tackle the quarterbacks, it was an encouraging afternoon for UK’s best hope for an improved pass rush this fall.

Offensive Surprise: Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran called sophomore running back Sihiem King one of the standouts of spring practice on Thursday, and King did nothing to prove that wrong in the scrimmage. Playing against the first-team defense in the first half, King totaled 84 yards and one touchdown on nine carries. His showed off his breakaway speed on a 43-yard run that set up a second-quarter touchdown which briefly gave the backups a 13-10 lead.

Defensive Surprise: Midway through spring practice, Stoops spent much of one interview session heaping praise on sophomore outside linebacker Kobie Walker, but Saturday’s scrimmage was Walker’s first chance to play in front of a Commonwealth Stadium crowd after being declared ineligible for the 2015 season. The second-team defense did not have a great afternoon overall, but Walker did add a couple of highlights with one sack, a tipped pass at the line of scrimmage and a fumble recovery.

Play of the Game: After halftime, the UK coaches began to shuffle players between the two teams, erasing the true first-team versus second-team matchup. In No. 2 quarterback Stephen Johnson’s second series with the first-team offense, he hit junior wide receiver Jeff Badet on a screen pass that Badet took 85 yards for a touchdown. Badet made his case for the fastest player on the roster on the play, beating senior cornerback J.D. Harmon, the last defender between him and the end zone, by cutting back across the field.

Room for Improvement: Many UK fans entered the spring concerned about the massive turnover in the starting defensive line and linebacker groups, and the first-team defense did little to erase those fears playing against the second-team offense in the first half. The White team offense totaled 143 rushing yards on 25 carries before halftime. While quarterbacks were not live for contact, Johnson exploited the defense’s 2015 struggles to stop running quarterbacks by gaining 69 yards on eight carries. He was sacked three times in the first half on plays where the defender just needed to touch him in the backfield.

Email Jon Hale at Follow him on Twitter @JonHale_CJ

UK Instant Analysis | Offense shines for Cats – The Courier-Journal

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