The Kentucky Wildcats may be without Drew Barker this week when the South Carolina Gamecocks come to town.
Barker left early during Saturday's 62-42 win over New Mexico State with what was initially called a back injury. It apparently was not suffered on gameday, but was a chronic issue he's been dealing with. That may explain why Barker has looked so bad in the past two games vs Florida and the one series vs New Mexico State.
It got so bad Saturday that Barker was forced out of the game and was sent to the hospital to be examined. On Monday, head coach Mark Stoops updated Barker's status. Stoops said the redshirt sophomore had an MRI and is seeing a back specialist, but would comment not further on the injury itself.
However, Stoops did talk about having Barker atop the newest depth chart, despite Stephen Johnson seemingly earning the right to start this week vs South Carolina.
"He’s listed as the starter on the depth chart for a reason," Stoops said of Barker.
As I said earlier, Barker is not losing his job over one or two games. He's been the starter since winning the job in spring with relative ease, and he's done everything asked of him since then while carrying himself like the leader he needed to be.
However, it sounds like this injury is pretty significant, enough that was affecting him months ago during fall camp.
Barker is a tough kid. I'm told his back was bothering him quite a bit in camp.— Justin Rowland (@RowlandRIVALS) September 19, 2016
If nothing else, Barker probably needs a game or two off to rest that back and let Johnson show if he's worth being the starter. It's definitely smart to keep Barker rested this week with the injury seeming to have reached the point Barker can't play effectively, and then he can sit next week vs Alabama, a game where the outcome will not be changed whether Barker plays or not.
After Bama, Vanderbilt comes to town on Oct. 8, then UK gets a much-needed bye week before Mississippi State comes to Commonwealth on Octo. 22.
It doesn’t seem Barker injured his back enough that he won’t be able to suit up this week vs South Carolina, but the pain appears to have reached a point he won’t be effective enough if he plays.
My guess is Barker sits this week and vs Bama before returning against Vandy if he’s healthy enough to, unless Johnson has locked down the job by then. It’s hard to see that happening though against South Carolina (No. 28 nationally in scoring defense) and Bama (No. 6 in rushing defense).