Johnson unfazed by the moment, wins QB battle against UofL’s Jackson

Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson receives the MVP award following the game against the Louisville Cardinals on Saturday, November 26, 2016 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Hunter Mitchell | Staff

Anthony Crawford

It’s hard to describe a bigger moment than the one that UK quarterback Stephen Johnson was faced with in the game that ended with UK on top 41-38 over No. 11 Louisville.

Even with bowl eligibility already secured, the matchup with the rival Cardinals represented a better chance for a statement win than any game UK will play in the postseason. And for Johnson, he had to play with the pressure of the likely Heisman winner Lamar Jackson standing on the other sidelines powering an offense that Johnson was in charge of keeping up with.

In the end, it was Johnson who came out on top in the quarterback battle as he led UK to the win looking unfazed throughout the game despite the gravity of the moment.

“His decision making, his accuracy, I thought he was phenomenal,” UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said. “In this type of a situation? He was great. Unbelievable.”

Since taking over for the injured Drew Barker against New Mexico State, Johnson’s play has at times left fans wanting more, but he’s always improved. His transition from backup to starter has shown above all else his outstanding poise and ability to never be overwhelmed by the moment. Both those qualities shined through in the win over Louisville.

Johnson’s statline alone show the improvement in his play. The junior quarterback threw for a career-high 338 yards on 16-for-27 passing for three touchdowns. He also led UK in rushing with a career-high 83 yards on the ground.

“I’m my own biggest critic,” Johnson said. “I had a lot of misthrows that really could’ve sealed the deal on some of the plays. But really happy with the offense and what we did today.” 

UK entered the game expected to be blown out by the Jackson led Louisville offense, but stayed in the game thanks to the steady play from Johnson.

He showcased the deep ball accuracy that he’s great at with his three passing touchdowns going for 75, 63 and 35 yards, but he was also a lot better in the short passing game.

UK was able to convert on 10-of-18 third downs because of his ability to make the short, routine passes and also because of all the plays he made on his feet.

After showing indecision at times on when to bail and a play and scramble, he made all the right decisions against Louisville and the result was UK being able to extend drives.

Even with Johnson playing at his best, a UK fumble put the game in Jackson’s hands with only minutes remaining. UofL drove down to UK’s goal line but a turnover was the final outcome as Jackson fumbled on a scramble. He finished the game with turnovers in four of Louisville’s last five drives.

With the game up for grabs, Johnson led a drive from the UK 10-yard line to get into field goal range. Big plays through the air and on the ground from Johnson, eventually got the Cats there. And a Austin MacGinnis field goal secured the win for UK and the Howard Schnellenberger MVP Award for Johnson.

“We talk about all the time,” UK head coach Mark Stoops said. “‘When are we going to put it all together? When are we going to play our best football?’ I think that was the case with Stephen tonight.”