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By LARRY VAUGHT
Neal Brown knows there is no “one thing” that Kentucky’s offense must do better in the second half of the season since the Wildcats rank 13th in total offense in the 14-team Southeastern Conference.
“I think we’ve got to make plays in crucial situations. Third downs, in the red zone, we’ve got to make key blocks, key passes, key catches. I think that’s been our Achilles heel is,” said Brown. “We have not made plays in those crucial situations.When we’ve given up a score, we come out, and we’ve got to make plays to continue a drive.
“Or we get a couple first downs and now we’re in a third and medium situation, maybe we’ve made a poor throw. In those crucial situations, we’ve got to make plays.”
Brown hopes his players are remaining confident.
“I think with our quarterbacks, they’re confident and they’ve got to do a better job of trusting our young guys,” Brown said. “I think there’s maybe a lack of trust there sometimes, just because the guys are so new. They’ve got to give those guys blind trust and fully expect that our guys are going to be in the spots they’re supposed to be in.”
Freshman receiver Jeff Badet, who did not play against Alabama after missing practice with an injury, is available for Thursday night’s game at Mississippi State.
“He’s back. This will be the first week he’ll be available. He dressed against Alabama, but didn’t practice that week. But he’ll be available for this game,” Brown said.
So will sophomore A.J. Legree, who has not been in the rotation at receiver and was behind a walk-on player until working his way back up the rotation during UK’s bye week.
“Had a great special teams game against Alabama, and I expect to use him more at wideout. He’s probably the guy that benefited from this break, this off week, because we got him back in the rotation and he made some plays. I’m expecting him to play more offense than he has,” Brown said. “He’s just got to be consistent, make some plays. He’s exactly what you’re looking for, from his height, from his athletic ability. He really jumps well. He’s got good burst off the ball. He’s just got to catch the ball consistently.”
Quarterback Jalen Whitlow sprained his ankle against Alabama but has returned to practice and Brown said he’s “got a chance” to play Thursday night.
“We’ve got a package in for him, and I probably won’t be able to tell until later in the week how much of it we’re going to use, or how much we’ll be able to use. If he keeps progressing then I think he’ll be fine on Thursday,”Brown said.
With Whitlow injured, Maxwell Smith got the reps with the No. 1 offense during the bye week before both quarterbacks have taken reps this week.
“In a perfect world, we’d like for one guy to play well and keep playing,” Brown said.
Brown said he had a plan for a third quarterback if needed but wouldn’t discuss whether it would be sophomore Patrick Towles or freshman Reese Phillips. Kentucky hopes to redshirt both of them.
“Hopefully it doesn’t come to that, but in our business, you’ve got to kind of (prepare for) worst-case scenario. We’ve had those discussions and we’ve gotten a third quarterback some reps,” Brown said. “In a perfect world we would rather not take either one of those kids’ redshirts off. It’s been helpful. Jalen’s worked really hard to get back where I think he’s going to be an option on Thursday.”