LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) For all the accolades Kentucky freshman wide receiver Garrett Johnson has gotten since his school-record performance two weeks ago at Florida, he’s hoping for better results against Vanderbilt.
Kentucky (2-1, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) returns Saturday from a bye looking to end a 17-game conference losing streak dating back to the 2011 season. The Wildcats are 17-point favorites against the Commodores (1-3, 0-2) partly because Johnson’s performance against the Gators.
Johnson caught six passes for 154 yards, including touchdowns of 60 and 33 yards, in Kentucky’s 36-30 triple-overtime loss in Gainesville. His second TD put the Wildcats ahead in the second half.
Johnson’s goal now is putting Kentucky over the top in an SEC game for the first time in over two years.
”It’s going to be huge,” he said of the implications. ”Any SEC win is great. Hopefully we can get our first one this week.”
Johnson certainly hopes to have his hands in the effort.
Three games into his collegiate career, Johnson is Kentucky’s second-leading with nine catches for 197 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore Ryan Timmons leads the receiving corps with 17 catches for 212 yards.
The Wildcats could face the Commodores a little healthier with veteran Javess Blue (sprained ankle) expected back at full strength after playing sparingly against the Gators. Johnson looks forward to playing alongside the player he said ”gives us our juice” in practice and has helped him transition from high school to the collegiate level.
In the meantime, Johnson is trying to build off an impressive game that brought him instant notoriety on social media.
”I had literally 100 text messages,” Johnson said. ”Literally, my Twitter (account) was going off like crazy.”
Besides congratulations from family and friends, the SEC recognized Johnson as Freshman of the Week. He was Kentucky’s first rookie with two TD catches since Randall Cobb against Arkansas in 2008, while his yardage was the most since Cobb’s 171 against Mississippi State in 2010.
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said last week that while Johnson’s outing was helpful toward developing playmakers in the pass-heavy Air Raid scheme, more work lies ahead for the young receiving corps. Blue added that his teammate’s emergence demonstrated their grasp of the learning curve.
”I’ve been very impressed,” the senior said of Johnson and the other newcomers. ”A couple of guys were wide-eyed (at Florida), but we’re getting the feel of it and feeling real comfortable right now.”
Although the Florida game was the biggest of Johnson’s brief career, he’s striving for consistency and spent the bye week reviewing game video toward that end.
There were ”a couple of times where things didn’t go right and I didn’t run the right route or I could have did something else to get more separation,” the 5-foot-11, 176-pounder said of his play. ”I’m still critiquing myself.”
Johnson is looking for more examples to judge himself by, adding, ”I definitely feel like I’m making a lot of progress since I first stepped on campus. The speed of the game is slowing down for me and it’s happening like I want it to.”