By LARRY VAUGHT
With questions continuing to swirl about Kentucky’s quarterback situation, coach Mark Stoops knows what he would like to see happen against Alabama State Saturday night.
“I think in a perfect world we’d keep our quarterbacks healthy and whoever was in there would be running the offense efficiently,” said Stoops. “And in this case, Jalen (Whitlow) starting the game, it would be really nice to have him start a game and finish a game unless we decide to take him out for good reasons. So that would be nice to happen.”
If that happens, then Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown would not have to decide if former starter Maxwell Smith or true freshman Reese Phillips, who is scheduled to be redshirted, would go in if Whitlow was hurt or ineffective.
“If something happens early, then we got a decision to make,” Stoops said.
Brown said that Phillips is “looking good” in practice even though Whitlow has got all the first-team reps this week.
“We’ve gotten him a decent amount of work the last couple of weeks. Ideally, I think we’d like to keep the red shirt on him this late, but I think we’re mentally getting him ready and we’re getting him enough reps where if he needs to play, he’ll be ready,” Brown said. “Jalen will start the game and hopefully finish it and be healthy and all those type of things. And Maxwell (Smith) and Reese are splitting those two reps.”
Stoops said on the Southeastern Conference teleconference that he was “not ready” to say if Smith or Phillips would be the primary backup Saturday night.
“Right now, he (Smith) is our No. 2 on the depth chart, but we have been pushing a little bit with Reese and getting him ready and there’s a chance that he could see some action if Jalen was injured.
“Jalen should be ready. Like most SEC quarterbacks, a little banged up, a little bruised up and all that, but he should be healthy. The last game it was his ankle, and this week seems to be better, he’s a little dinged up on his shoulder, but he should be fine.”
Stoops knows it is important to have a valid backup plan at quarterback. Smith has battled a sore shoulder all season and Whitlow was challenged last week by Stoops to play with more toughness.
“There’s some big boys out there, very physical like we all know. It’s been troublesome to us. We were sorting through our quarterback situation most of the spring and most of the summer and into the fall here and then once we settled in, we felt like we were making some progress and really starting to click offensively with Jalen, then he goes down and gets injured and you go back to Max (Smith). You need to have some depth at that position,” Stoops said.
Stoops has seen signs that Whitlow has accepted the challenge of playing with more toughness.
“He’s beat up, but the deal is this late in the season, most people that are playing college football are beat up, regardless of positions and quarterback’s probably — their wear and tear through the week is a lot less — I always tell them they’ve got the easiest job Sunday through Friday and the hardest job on Saturdays,” Stoops said. “I think he’s accepted the challenge. He’s got a little bit of a sore ankle, a little bit of a sore shoulder, neither one of them anything major. But he’s been out here every day, hasn’t missed any time, so I think he has responded.”
Stoops admits the one unknown with Phillips is how he will actually perform in a collegiate game.
“He’s good and comfortable. Seems like he’s got one of those personalities where he doesn’t get too worked up about anything,” Stoops said. “Of course, that’s easier said than done on the practice field, right? With quarterbacks, you never really know until you get them out there in game situations and see how it goes and all that. So we’ll see, but I like the way he’s gone about his business.”