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By KEITH TAYLOR, Winchester Sun
Kentucky’s offensive game plan centered around starting quarterback Jalen Whitlow going into Saturday’s contest against top-ranked Alabama at Commonwealth Stadium.
It didn’t take long for the Wildcats to abandon the offensive schemes they had planned to use against the Crimson Tide.
By the end of the first quarter, Kentucky scratched the playbook after Whitlow went down with an ankle injury on the team’s second series after getting sacked for a 9-yard loss by Alabama defensive back Garrick Williams. Although x-rays proved negative, Whitlow didn’t return, while backup signal caller Maxwell Smith played the remainder of the contest. Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said Whitlow’s injury appeared to be a sprained left ankle.
The unexpected departure of Whitlow forced Kentucky to change its strategy in a hurry.
“It hurt,” Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown said following the Wildcats’ 48-7 loss to the Crimson Tide. “It hurt in a sense that we gave Galen a bunch of reps this week. Maxwell didn’t get as many as he had been. We had a lot of quarterback run game into the game plan. It took us a couple of series’ to get a plan together.”
Although he didn’t receive as many repetitions as Whitlow last week, Smith stayed prepared behind the scenes, and in the shadows of Whitlow, who earned the starting job after an inspiring performance in Kentucky’s 35-28 loss to South Carolina. Smith admitted that his reps decreased following the loss to the Gamecocks.
“I’m not getting a lot of reps (in practice), but I’ve just got to be mentally prepared and I was doing it all week,” Smith said. “I took a lot of notes and watched a lot of film.”
Although mentally ready, Smith wasn’t prepared for the live version of Alabama’s defense, which limited the Wildcats to just 170 total yards.
“I was seeing everything that I was anticipating,” Smith said. “They’re a very good team. They have the best defensive-minded coach ever (Nick Sabin) and they’re very sound on defense. They do a lot of good things. They made a lot of plays, we didn’t make enough.
Smith helped the Wildcats avoid a shutout and ended Alabama’s scoreless streak that spanned 14 quarters with a 30-yard touchdown strike to Javelins Blue with 7:05 remaining in the third frame. The scoring strike from Smith to Blue marked the first time since a quarterback named Johnny Mansfield had torched the Crimson Tide secondary for a six-pack and only the sixth passing touchdown the Crimson Tide defense had allowed through six games.
The successful scoring drive produced 75 yards – 13 more than the entire Kentucky offense had produced through the first two quarters. Smith was 7-for-16 and threw for 76 yards and one touchdown but had a hard time finding an opening in the Alabama defense.
“They all just do their job,” Smith said. “Everybody does their assignment and that’s why they’re so good. We had guys open at times and either I wasn’t making a play or they weren’t making a play. We just didn’t make enough plays.”
Smith added that it was “frustrating not being able to put a bunch of first downs together, drive down the field and score touchdowns.” Kentucky managed just 13 first-downs, compared to 35 for the Crimson Tide.
“That’s always frustrating no matter who you are playing,” he said. “It’s difficult for sure, but we’ve just got to working. We have a whole second half of the season left to go.”
It’s not known how long Whitlow will be out of the lineup, considering Kentucky has an open date before taking on Mississippi State in a Thursday night encounter on Oct. 24 in Starkville.