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By LARRY VAUGHT
Mark Stoops is not putting the blame for Kentucky’s offensive woes solely on sophomore quarterback Jalen Whitlow. However, the UK coach won’t mince words, either, about the way his quarterback has played at times.
“I make no excuses for him. We missed some throws we’ve got to make (at Vanderbilt last week). We really did. We have to make those throws,” said Stoops as his team prepares to play at Georgia Saturday night.
Whitlow was just 14 of 28 passing for 120 yards with four interceptions at Vanderbilt and has struggled most of the season with consistent accuracy.
“There’s a lot of plays that we all can do better, but when we have opportunities, when we have shots and we have guys open, we have to hit some of them to win games. We’re not doing that,” Stoops said. “But I do think him getting more comfortable in the pocket, scrambling, scrambling buying time and throwing on a critical third down, scrambling and converting a third down with his legs, doing some things to help us move the chains is also important.
“He’s getting more and more comfortable with certain things and he’s doing a good job at certain things. In the execution of the pass game we need to improve, and that’s on everybody. There’s some balls out there that the wide receivers need to go and get also.”
Part of Whitlow’s problem has been not always making the right pass-run read.
“We have a run, and if there’s pressure and you know it’s coming, you’ve got to take it and throw the screen, you’ve got an opportunity for a big play,” Stoops said. “Now he’s got to do that, however long that is. There’s a very short amount of time with a bunch of guys breathing down his neck. He’s just got to understand that’s what he’s got to do. He’s got to distribute the ball where it needs to go all the time. That’ll help our offense go. We did miss a couple of those, but we are getting better in that area.
“I think those are things that get frustrating, and those are things that he’s got to be able to execute under extreme pressure, whether you’re on the road in a hostile environment with a bunch of big guys blitzing you. You have to be able to make that quick decision and execute it. It’s just like the interception. We got a little rushed and threw it a little high, and instead of making a catch, and if you look at that play, certainly if you watch it on film, we have a 10‑yard gain. Instead it’s an interception. But that’s a matter of, what, six inches? And those are things we need to execute.”
Stoops said his players are working to break old habits that don’t work.
“I see us fighting to win through the entire game last week. We didn’t make a couple plays or we have an opportunity to win. That comes to execution. We’re not perfect. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting better,” Stoops said. “I think they understand that there’s so much more to do, and there’s so much more accountability that needs to happen in all aspects of our program. I’m part of that, and our coaches are, and so is our team.”
Stoops is not used to losing like he has this year. But he knows his players don’t want to lose, either.
“Sometimes as a position coach or a coordinator you’re so locked into your own thing that you have to look at the whole team. We’ve talked about that as a staff, and we have to keep on making everybody accountable. We’re all accountable, me included,” Stoops said. “We say that to the team all the time. We’re all in this together, we’re all accountable to each other, and the mistakes we’ve got to get corrected, but you also have to point out all the good things we’re doing and they’re doing, and again,\.
“ I think it starts with an attitude. That’s always the first thing. To me that’s what’s most encouraging and we’ve got to keep on doing, that’s really maybe the first time I’ve seen that, a real tough mentality across the board, I mean, with everybody in the locker room. And that we need to have all the time. Again, they’ve heard me talk about this. Without that you have no chance of winning. With it you give yourself an opportunity.”