Scout.com/Jeff Drummond

Stephen Johnson's steady demeanor giving Kentucky Wildcats shot to win

Few players in recent UK memory have experienced as many highs and lows early in his career like Stephen Johnson has.

Not that one would ever notice from Johnson's demeanor. 

Whether it's throwing a deep ball for a touchdown or coughing up a fumble that turns into a score for the opponent or leading a last-minute drive for a game-winning field goal -- all memorable moments from Kentucky's 40-38 win last week over Mississippi State -- the most consistent thing about the Wildcats' most inconsistent player is how he handles himself.

"As far as calmness and not getting too or too low, it's incredible," UK quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw said after Tuesday's practice in preparation for this week's game at Missouri. "You can talk to him, and it's exactly the same guy after he throws a touchdown as after he makes a huge mistake, which is great. That's what you want in your quarterback. Now we just have to eliminate the mistakes."

In some ways, Johnson's individual season is mirroring that of the Cats' campaign. Both have blemishes, yet they are in good shape with five regular-season games remaining.

Kentucky has lost a game it should not have dropped and been blown out twice. But the Cats have also shown grit and determination in wins over South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State and are 4-3 overall, 3-2 in SEC play despite owning a minus-9 turnover margin -- worst in the league -- with Johnson committing seven of the miscues via two interceptions and five fumbles.

"We've had some sputters and some good, some bad and some ugly," UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said after Saturday's win, "but when you find a way to win, it's fantastic"

Both of Johnson's fumbles in last week's game led to touchdowns for the Bulldogs. Another one in the Alabama game was returned for a score. Through it all, the junior college transfer from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., just keeps plugging. 

So how is he able to almost instantly block out the negative and move on to the next play?

"I guess I try to stay as relaxed as I can. I try to stay as chill as I can," Johnson said. "I get that a lot. Maybe it's a California thing? I don't know, but people tell me that a lot."

Sometimes the demeanor may fool people from the outside looking in, he added.

"My mind's going a million miles per hour, all the time, especially when I'm on the field," Johnson said. "But I just try to be as calm as I can, as relaxed as I can."

Hinshaw has stressed eliminating "five or six" negative plays per game, which would give the unit a chance to put up some big numbers down the stretch this season.

Entering this week's game at Missouri (2-5, 0-3 SEC), Johnson has completed 56 percent of his passes for 920 yards and five touchdowns with only two interceptions. He hopes to add to those numbers against the Tigers, who are coming off a 51-45 loss to Middle Tennessee State in which the Blue Raiders passed for 284 yards and rushed for 311.

Kickoff is slated for Noon ET on Saturday in Columbia, Mo.


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