By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops officially ended the speculation about UK’s top two quarterbacks going into the season by admitting after Tuesday’s scrimmage that either Jalen Whitlow or Maxwell Smith would start Aug. 31 when the Wildcats open the season in Nashville against Western Kentucky.
“No, we haven’t made a decision on the starter yet. We have narrowed it to two and I think both of those guys will play in the first game. I know both of those guys will play in the first game. I don’t know who’s going to start,” said Stoops. “They had some ups and downs (in the scrimmage). It wasn’t just a sieve like it was last spring at times. They had some good drives and some bad drives.”
Stoops said the third sophomore quarterback, Patrick Towles, had been “absolutely fantastic during the process” to determine a No. 1 quarterback.
“He fought. He wanted to win the starting job, but he’s had a great attitude, and that’s what I told him. Patrick has been very good, has continued to work extremely hard. He’s got as much talent as any quarterback we have on campus, but it’s just a matter of letting him grow into the situation a little bit,” Stoops said. “And he’s open to the idea, if the opportunity presents itself, to redshirt.
“ And if we go through the year and neither one of the quarterbacks are getting it done, then we may open it back up. But he’s going to prepare to be the third quarterback with the opportunity to redshirt if it presents itself.”
Stoops said Towles, the former Kentucky Mr. Football from Highlands, had been “mature, handled it well” when he told him the news.
“It wasn’t an easy conversation because I know how much he cares and how much he put into it. He handled it the right way. And I know it was easy for me because I was very fair in the whole process. I gave him every opportunity to win the job,” Stoops said.
The coach knows either Whitlow or Smith, who both started last year, will be disappointed if they are not No. 1.
“If they’re a competitor, they’ll be disappointed. But I expect both of them to be ready to go because they’re going to play and it’ll still be an open competition, really, to see who wins it,” Stoops, who would not speculate on whether both quarterbacks could play against Western, said.
The coach was pleased that the receivers, who dropped numerous balls in Saturday’s scrimmage, played better as did the offense overall.
“I can’t think off the top of my head if we had any drops. Maybe a couple here or there, but I don’t remember any of the top two groups dropping any balls,” Stoops said. “I wanted the guys mentally prepared to come out here and play well with some enthusiasm. And again, that’s why we went through the whole procedure again, so there’s no wondering how we’re going to do pregame and all those things and just kind of get into a routine. I liked the energy. I liked the energy.”
Stoops also addressed a number of personnel issues:
— He said he was worried about the “aggravating ankle injuries” that both defensive end Za’Darius Smith and Cody Quinn have that have kept them out of practice. Center Zach Myers also is not back practicing because of an ankle injury.
— Junior college defensive lineman Melvin Lewis is now practicing after being cleared last week academically. “He looks good. He’s obviously out of shape, hasn’t been here all summer. But we’re pleased with what we see from him so far, and he does have a redshirt year available to him as well. So we’ll see how he progresses,” Stoops said.
— Freshman receiver Ryan Timmons of Franklin County is “doing good” and Stoops said he had a “very good chance” to be a starter against Western.
— No decision has been made yet on the status of junior safety Ashely Lowery, who was charged with DUI after a summer automobile accident. “No update on Ashely’s situation,” Stoops said.