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By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky will have a four-way battle in spring practice to determine who is the No. 1 quarterback. Jalen Whitlow is the returning starter and Maxwell Smith, who also started games, is out after undergoing shoulder surgery. That will leave sophomore Patrick Towles, redshirt freshman Reese Phillips and incoming freshman Drew Barker splitting reps for offensive coordinator Neal Brown as the Wildcats hope to start putting together a more productive offense.
But what if another quarterback was at UK when preseason practice started in August?
No, I have no idea if it could happen, but remember the name Michael Brewer. He was supposed to be Texas Tech’s starting quarterback in 2013 but a preseason back injury sidelined him until October and he never got back to the top of the depth chart. Brewer, who threw for 440 yards and five touchdowns in 13 games during his career, intends to transfer after graduating from Texas Tech at the end of the spring semester and will be a graduate transfer eligible to play in 2014.
Brewer was a three-star prospect at Lake Travis High School in Austin, Texas, and was regarded as a dual-threat quarterback with good speed and an excellent arm — the kind of traits Brown wants in the quarterback running his offense. He was part of four consecutive state championship teams and threw for 2,865 yards as a senior despite missing games due to an injury. As a junior the threw for 4,437 yards and 41 touchdown. He rushed for 593 yards as a junior and 743 yards his senior season. He only lost one game as a starting quarterback.
And check out his bloodlines. His father, Robert, played quarterback at Texas while grandfather, Charlie, also played quarterback at Texas. He has an uncle who played quarterback at Texas, great uncle who played quarterback at Texas Tech and another great uncle who played running back at Oklahoma.
So what could bring him to Kentucky? Simple — his relationship with Brown.
Check out what Mike Graham (@MGraham17), staff writer for RedRaiderSports.com and the Dallas Morning News, told me about Brown and Brewer when I talked to him after Brown was hired to run Mark Stoops’ offense at Kentucky.
“Quarterbacks love Neal,” Graham said. “I think next year’s starter, Michael Brewer, will come out of the chute and be successful because of what Neal taught him regardless of if Neal is in Lubbock or not. Neal was huge in Brewer’s recruitment and Brewer won two state championships at Lake Travis as a quarterback and one as a receiver. Neal has an eye for talent, no doubt. He typically recruited guys Texans knew about but didn’t covet. But those guys would show up on campus and impress you out of the box.”
Maybe Brewer will have no interest in playing for Brown. Maybe UK will have no interest in adding another quarterback, especially since Caldwell County junior star Elijah Sindelar could commit to Kentucky in the next few months. Then again, Brewer likes Brown, knows his offense, could play immediately and has not one, but two years of eligibility, remaining.
Brewer won’t be leaving Tech until the semester ends so he can graduate. Just file the name away and once signing day passes in early February, let’s see what might develop with Brewer’s future plans.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Without wanting to go into great detail about Kentucky’s quarterback play, coach Mark Stoops will admit it was “not a perfect situation” this season with both Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith battling injuries and inconsistencies.
“It’s an issue. I think each guy did some good things at times and some things that weren’t so good, and again, that’s our whole team, though. That’s not just on those guys. We have to play better around them,” said Stoops after his team’s 2-10 finish in his first year as head coach. “So we can’t just put that all on the quarterbacks. But I don’t think it’s a perfect situation and I don’t think anybody really went out and just said, this is mine, which you’re waiting to see.”
Smith played in nine games and completed 105 of 183 passes for 1,276 yards and nine scores with just one interception. Whitlow played in 12 games and was 98 of 159 passing for 1,035 yards and five scores with five interceptions. Whitlow also rushed for 457 yards, the third best mark on the team, and a team-high six scores.
“Nobody expects to go 2-10 in consecutive seasons, but I can sense that something about this program is going to change. Coach Stoops, they’re getting their recruits in, implementing their system,” Smith said. “It’s tough. A lot of guys struggle with a new system, just little, tiny mistakes. I think that’s our biggest thing is mentally, there are a lot of mental mistakes out there. We know how to practice now, we get a winter under our belt, we get another spring, and I think we’re going to have a big turnaround.”
Smith called it a “disappointing” season.
“We all felt good going in. We knew we had a tough schedule like I said, so it was disappointing. When you go 2-10 it’s obviously disappointing,” Smith said.
Smith and Whitlow, both sophomores, will be pressed in spring practice by redshirt freshman Reese Phillips and sophomore Patrick Towles, who redshirted this season also. Plus, Conner High School quarterback Drew Barker will arrive at UK in January and will participate in spring drills.
Smith has been hampered by a sore shoulder that he opted not to have surgery on after the 2012 season. Stoops still believes he “could be healthy enough” to compete for playing time in 2014.
“I hope he can and I think he needs to go in and we need to look at that shoulder again. This was (a) different (injury this year). (Trainer) Jim Madaleno and our doctors tell me this injury right now is a little different now than other problems he’s had,” Stoops said.
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown said it was a “patchwork” season offensively.
“It’s a deal where we’ve gotta get better. I’ve gotta do a better job coaching those guys. They’ve gotta do a better job playing consistently,” Brown said. “I think it was encouraging that Maxwell played as good as he did (against Tennessee). He’s gotta connect on those deep balls.
“Unfortunately, we’ve got quite a bit of time around the holiday season that I’ll have to sit around and contemplate and get this thing fixed. The next two weeks are going to be recruiting; our guys are going to get to work. The guys that are here are going to get to work and we’re going to get to work recruiting for two weeks. And then we’ve got a big, long break where it’s a dead period where I can sit around and get a lot of our problems fixed.”
Brown said there’s no doubt UK has “to play better” at quarterback in 2014 no matter who the starter is.
“I think we have to play more consistently there. I think that’s understood,” Brown said.
By LARRY VAUGHT
If Patrick Towles is not happy at Kentucky, he’s certainly kept it to himself — something that is normally not easy for a quarterback who thought he would be playing to do.
Towles was Kentucky’s Mr. Football in 2011 when he led Highlands to another state championship. He was the bellcow in then UK coach Joker Phillips’ final recruiting class and was viewed as the savior of UK football. Instead, he got to play sparingly in 2012 only because other quarterbacks were hurt — and then got injured himself.
This season he was redshirted as he tried to cope and learn new offensive coordinator Neal Brown’s pass-friendly offense.
But with starter Jalen Whitlow returning, redshirt freshman Reese Phillips ahead of Towles on the season-ending depth chart, the possible return of part-time starter Max Smith and the arrival of Conner quarterback Drew Barker at UK in January, many have speculated that Towles will transfer.
Don’t count on it based on two messages he posted on Twitter after UK’s season ending loss to Tennessee.
“Big thanks to the seniors for giving all they had day in and day out and for helping in this programs transformation!!! Always #family #BBN,” Towles posted. Then he added, “Can’t wait for Spring Ball in Lexington! All improvement until then!”
Walk-on linebacker Tre Dunn of Mercer County has seen no signs of unhappiness from Towles, who was not available to the media after the season started.
“Me and Towles are really good friends. I always heard about him and (freshman walk-on receiver) Ozzie (Sheehan) both at Highlands. We have been pretty good pals. I am close to all the K-Y (Kentucky) kids. We have to stick together,” Dunn said. “I think Patrick is an extremely hard working individual and adversity is nothing new to him. He has handled everything well. He will continue to work hard because that is what he does best.”
Towles never pouted on the sideline during a game. He was usually one of the first to cheer for teammates. When Jalen Whitlow was injured at Georgia, Towles put on his helmet and was ready to play if needed even though it would have burned his redshirt year.
“He is definitely someone regardless of what his position is on the team, he knows everyone has a role,” Dunn said. “He is someone to bring guys up with him and encourage everybody to keep optimistic on the sideline. He is awesome. That is a trait everyone respects because he’s awesome like that.
“He loves it here from what I can tell. I don’t know all the details, but Patrick is an awesome teammate and I love having him around. He’s great to be with.”
Former UK quarterback Jared Lorenzen is a Towles fan. He coached Towles at Highlands, where he also played, and understands the rigors of playing quarterback in the SEC. He’s never asked Towles about his future plans, but knows he’s heard no transfer talk from those closest to him.
“He always kind of grew up wanting to play for UK. He finally got his wish and he’s on full scholarship,” Lorenzen said. “He got to play (last year), throw touchdowns. I have not heard anything about transferring. He could light it up in the spring (practice). Not anyone is just going to be given the job. Someone has to take it. Maybe he just needs another year for that to be him.”
Some have speculated maybe Towles would stay at UK and change positions. Lorenzen says no way to that.
“He is a quarterback. It’s hard if you have never played another position to switch and do it. It just takes certain mentality to play quarterback,” Lorenzen said.
But what about Danville’s Chase Harp? He was recruited by UK coach Hal Mumme at quarterback, didn’t win the job and eventually became a productive, starting tight end.
“What I love about Chase is that he was a dirty, mean player, and I mean that as a compliment,” Lorenzen said. “I wish I had had more of that in me. Chase loved the weight room. He was going to fight you. That was him. Moving him was fine.
“But at Highlands, if you play quarterback, you don’t play any other position. He did not play much defense in Pee Wee football. It’s just too hard at 21 years old to make a change like that.”
But could he cope with not playing another year if Whitlow, Phillips or Barker wins the No. 1 job over him?
“That’s person by person. He’s one of the most competitive kids I’ve ever been around,” Lorenzen said. “He wants to win and be the quarterback. All quarterbacks do. But a lot of backup quarterbacks realize they are getting school paid for, he’s there with his friends on a team and Pat could be part of teams that turn UK football around. There’s a lot to be said for that. On the opposite side, he could say I’ve given this long enough and I want to go where I can play. Everybody’s different.”
Lorenzen said the “mental maturity” is different for every player and for some, it takes longer.
“Everybody grows up at a different time mentally,” Lorenzen said. “Physically, the kid is a beast. But it’s really different playing quarterback in the SEC compared to the Big Ten, ACC or American whatever. This is where the cream is.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky senior linebacker Avery Williamson wiped away tears as he left the Commonwealth Stadium field. He was upset UK lost 27-14 to Tennessee Saturday night, but he was crying because it was his final time to play for the Wildcats — and he not only loved playing at UK but also knows better times are ahead.
“I have no regrets about anything. I loved it here,” said Williamson, who finished his career with 296 tackles. “But I also know I was part of something to help build this program for the future despite our record (2-10). This coaching staff is going to get it done. There are good young players here. Fans should not worry. This program is going forward.”
That’s the same way first-year Kentucky coach Mark Stoops feels despite going 0-8 in SEC play and losing to in-state rivals Louisville and Western Kentucky. He was obviously frustrated that UK made way too many mistakes to even beat a mediocre Tennessee — but that was the story far too often this year.
“It was a tough way to wrap up the season,” Stoops admitted. “It was a frustrating loss, but give Tennessee credit. They played better than us. They made plays when they needed to. They coaches better than us. It seems it was that way most of the year for us. We all need to do things better, starting with me.”
Stoops praised his seniors, who went through back-to-back 2-10 seasons — the first one costing then coach Joker Phillips his job and the second one frustrating Stoops and UK fans who wanted more. However, Stoops noted it was not easy for seniors to deal with coaching and scheme changes.
“I thought those guys handles it well and tried to handle things well through the end of the year,” Stoops said. “We know we are laying a foundation in our program.”
That’s how Wiliamson felt, and why he almost wishes he could come back rather than now chase his dream in the NFL.
“People told me I couldn’t play here, but I think I proved I could be one of the best players in the SEC,” Williamson said. “I know I can prove myself at the next level, too. But I’ll miss here. It’s been great. And it will get better. Count on that. Just wait and see. Fans just need to keep believing.”
Stoops didn’t feel his players gave up on the season against Tennessee. He felt practice preparation was good and that players were “motivated and excited” to play and “wanted to go out with a good win” to end the season.
Of course, practice preparation was hampered by having not one, but two, quarterbacks hurting and unable to go through a full week of practice. Maxwell Smith started at quarterback and was 25-for-38 passing for 254 yards and two scores. However, Stoops revealed that he didn’t throw in practice Tuesday because of his sore shoulder and was even limited on Wednesday and that backup Jalen Whitlow, the former starter, played sparingly after spending last week seeing specialists and having tests to make sure his neck injury would allow him to play.
“He (Whitlow) did what he could to get in there and help us get out of the game. But he was not feeling good and he definitely couldn’t, I don’t think, take a whole game of getting hit and things like that,” Stoops said. “I mean, he was cleared, but just his mental framework in not being able to practice all week and all those things.
“And Max, again, he really gave it everything he had. His arm was bothering him. He took a shot last week and his arm was bothering him a little bit this week. Again, those guys tried to do what they could.”
But Kentucky seldom could do enough on offense or defense this year. Not enough depth, not enough overall talent. Stoops never made excuses. Instead, he often used the phrase “it is what it is” about his team — and those who understood football realized the obstacles he faced trying to fix problems that have plagued UK football for years in one season.
However, he feels no relief that the season is over. He’s a competitor. He wanted to win and expects to win.
“I’m disappointed. Right after this last game here, we really put a lot into this game. I thought, again, we were excited to play and really wanted to go out and play better than that. I’m disappointed right now,” Stoops said.
“But I know there’s a lot of work to be done and again, starting tomorrow, we’re hitting the road, and, we’ve got recruits on campus and meeting with our players that are here and go get in some homes and get busy recruiting.”
He insisted there’s “no doubt” in his mind the program is progressing. Wiliamson agreed.
“You may not see it on the scoreboard, but we got better,” the senior linebacker said. “These coaches know what they are doing. This program is going to be fine. The young guys will work hard and get better and they will keep bringing in players. Coach Stoops is a great coach and person. I’m glad I got to be around him this and glad down the road I will be able to say I was part of helping him turn this program in the direction he wanted.”
Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown thinks there have been “two different messages” for UK players this week preparing for Saturday night’s final game here against Tennessee.
“No. 1, you’ve got a group of seniors that I think that while the results may not look like it, they’ve done a good job from a work ethic standpoint. Guys like Kevin Mitchell, guys like Jordan Aumiller and Tyler Robinson, there are a couple other of those guys, who have done a good job of showing the young guys how to work and the mentality to have. So I think you approach it from one way, like, ‘Hey, this is their last game. This is their last chance to perform at this type of level at the University of Kentucky,’” said Brown.
“And the other aspect of it for the young guys, is this is going to lead us into the off-season, so we can go into the offseason on a positive.”
Brown has also had to game plan for Tennessee without knowing exactly whether starting quarterback Jalen Whitlow (shoulder, neck) will play, play on a limited basis or not play at all. Even if he does play, he could be re-injured. That’s why Maxwell Smith, who took over for Smith in the loss at Georgia last week, could well be the starter against Tennessee.
“Unfortunately, we’ve been in this (position) before this year, so it won’t be that much of a difference for all the rest of the guys,” Brown said.
Brown says he knows UK made the “right decision” by not using freshman Reese Phillips’ redshirt year to play him in recent games.
“Selfishly as a coaching staff, we’d like to see, I’d like to see what he’d do in a game, but we’re going to have to wait a little bit more time to see that,” Brown said. “That’s not in our plans to play him, you know what I mean? But we’ve got two guys that are banged up, too. We’ll be creative.”
Kentucky had to play receiver Matt Roark at quarterback against Tennessee two years ago — and beat the Vols.
Brown says Kentucky has already “thrown about all we’ve got” at defenses in an attempt to move the ball this season.
“Here’s how I look at this: It’s an opportunity for us to go into the offseason with positivity. And I think we’ve shown some growth. The last two weeks have been a real struggle for us offensively. Some of that’s because we’ve been beat up, some people haven’t played,” Brown said. “And some of that is just some of the things we were doing to move the ball early in the year, people are catching on.
“But I think it’s a … we’re playing Tennessee, who is in a lot of ways in a similar spot to what we are: new program, really good recruiting class coming in, season hasn’t gone as well as they would’ve liked it to go either. But it’s a rivalry game. I think our kids will be excited. That’s our job, to get them excited to play. There’s a lot to play for.”
Brown said there’s no relief knowing the season ends Saturday and he can turn his attention to 2014.
“For our program to move forward, our young guys have to improve. And the only way, from a football aspect, fundamentally, is to actually get your hands on them and work with them. And in the offseason, we don’t have a whole lot of opportunities to do that. So it’s not a sigh of relief in that part,” Brown sid. “I have a very good grasp on what our problems are. I know what they are, I know where our weaknesses are.
“I know what we’ve got to do to improve from a schematic standpoint, from a personnel standpoint, and you can’t do a whole lot of that during the season. That’s fair to say. So I’m excited about getting it fixed in the offseason, but I’m also a little bit down that this will be the last week that we can actually go through a week of practice with some of these young guys.”
Brown again emphasized the offense UK is using and what he would like to run are not the same — yet.
“The reality of it is my job is to put our guys in the best situation possible to win the game. And I thought really, minus two games, I think we’ve done that,” Brown said. “We’ve put ourselves in the position to have an opportunity to compete. I don’t think we’ve won games on offense. I really don’t think – I’m a realist, I don’t think we’ve gone out and won games – but we’ve been able to hang around in games, with the exception of the Alabama and the Georgia games. We put our defense in some bad situations, and we did that in the Missouri game also, but I think we’ve been able to hang around.
“We’ve run the ball, at times, successfully. We’ve struggled to throw it all year. I don’t think that’s any grand secret. We’ve really struggled to throw it. We struggle to get open, we struggle to complete it, we struggle to protect it. Every aspect. But I think, like I said, we’ve given ourselves a chance. Moving forward, we’re going to keep evolving. But I think what we’ve done the last three years at (Texas) Tech, what we did at Troy, that style … will be successful, and we will get closer to that as some of our personnel changes.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said Monday that “ everything has checked out OK to this point” on injured quarterback Jalen Whitlow going into Saturday night’s season-ending game against Tennessee..
Stoops said UK is still “working through” the starting quarterback’s status for the game.
“He’s gotten an MRI, went to a specialist. Everything seems fine at this point,” Stoops said Monday. “So we’ll see how he progresses through the week. There’s nothing major wrong with him, so hopefully he’ll be able to play. If not, we’ll prepare to play with Max (Smith).”
Whitlow has a problem with his left, non-throwing shoulder, but Stoops says that is “not the main issue” with Whitlow.
“He’s got some spasms going on in his neck,” the UK coach said.
Stoops wasn’t sure what he was going to do at Georgia last week if Smith went down after he took over for Whitlow. The coach asked UK athletics trainer Jim Madeleno if Whitlow could “ just hand it off and try to get out of that game” if Smith was hurt.
“I did consider putting (freshman) Reese (Phillips) in the game when Jalen got hurt, but that wouldn’t have been a wise decision. But emotionally, I was a little bit frustrated and thinking about it,” Stoops said. “And part of me, as I said earlier in other press conferences, I would’ve liked to have seen Reese just to see where we’re going, what he had in a game. You see it in practice and all those things, but again that wouldn’t have been a wise decision (to burn his redshirt year).
“So we were going with Max. I wanted to go back to Jalen and hand off to get out of that game, but if the doctors told me he could not go then I would’ve had to play Reese.”
Two years ago UK faced Tennessee without a healthy quarterback and receiver Matt Roark played quarterback and led UK to a win.
“All options are open to get a victory, believe me,” Stoops laughed and said.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky was close to playing true freshman quarterback Reese Phillips midway of the season when starter Jalen Whitlow was injured, but with only two games remaining coach Mark Stoops says Phillips will not play to preserve his redshirt season.
“If he (Whitlow) was reinjured we were going with Reese, going to put Reese in the game and give him a shot. Now with two games left, no chance of a bowl game or anything, I think it would be in our best interest to keep that redshirt year now,” said Stoops Wednesday on the Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference. “But he was moving up and repping with the twos really the second part of this season. Impressed with the way he’s progressing and excited about him in the future.”
Stoops said Phillips has handled needing to be game ready by not playing fine.
“He handled it very well because we was willing to take his redshirt year off if it helped the team to play, and he was preparing to play and really still is,” Stoops said. “But at this point, I would probably still go with Maxwell (Smith) to keep his redshirt. But I was excited to get Reese some reps in practice. I liked what I saw.
“He’s handled it very well, and very unselfish. Like I said, he was willing to play. I thought he would have went in there and done very well, so in a way I’m kind of disappointed I didn’t get an opportunity to see him play this year, but in the long run for the future of the program I’m glad to be able to keep his redshirt.”
Stoops said Georgia, which hosts UK Saturday night, has an “awful lot of talent” starting with quarterback Andy Murray.
“Very impressed with Murray, once again, and running back (Todd) Gurley is just a very, big, strong, physical running back. Of course, very talented receiving group that’s getting more and more healthy with (Chris) Conley coming back,” Stoops said. “Defensively, again, very good team and very talented. Bunch of linebackers that run all over the place and make plays. Very good up front with Ray Drew and good in the back end with (Josh Harvey-)Clemons and the rest of the crew. So it will be a real challenge for us.”
Stoops emphasized again that despite losing at Vanderbilt, he felt his team “played as hard as we have all year” last week.
“The outcome was not what we wanted. I felt like the team really played extremely hard. I thought we really had the best game defensively since I’ve been here. And again, I feel like we made some good stops and played extremely hard offensively as well. We’ve just got to stop having plays that are killing drives for us — penalties, dropped balls, missed assignments that create negative plays and all those things,” Stoops said. “But, again, I thought we moved it well, we’ve just got to execute better to get the ball in the end zone. We know we’ve got a little way to go, but pleased with the team’s attitude and effort.”
One thing frustrating Stoops is that UK has just one interception in 10 games.
“I like the way the group (secondary) practices, I really do. I think they go out there and really practice well and prepare for the games well. We’ve got to get our hands on some balls. I think a lot goes into that: pressure up front, blitzes getting there, trying to get bad passes. I think leads help. It’s no mystery we’re struggling to score points, so it’s just like last week the difference in the game was the turnovers,” Stoops said.
“So, I think they (Vanderbilt) were very smart with the ball and didn’t turn it over and don’t put themselves in that situation. I think most opponents know when we’re struggling to get the ball in the end zone that it would be very careless to throw the ball up and put it in bad situations. So I think that’s part of it as well. I think you have an opportunity to get lots of interceptions when you’re team’s scoring a bunch of points and teams are playing from behind as well. That’s not been the case this year. But we need to do a better job in the secondary, we need to do a better job creating pressure and creating some negative plays, whether it be tips or different things like that. I think the group’s getting better, but we all know we have a long way to go.”
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.”
Kentucky Head Coach Mark Stoops
“It’s the same old song and dance, I’m upset and frustrated. I thought our team played hard but we just didn’t make plays when we had to. We had certain plays set up and we didn’t execute and they executed their plays, that was the difference in the game.
“Jordan Matthews was very hard to defend. He made some very nice plays and he’s a very good wideout. He was tough to defend, but other than that I thought the defense played very well.
“Offensively, I thought we controlled play pretty well. We just need to find some explosive playmakers.”
Does this loss hurt over the others:
“It does. We told our guys at half time we completely controlled the game, yet we’re still down three. We played extremely well on both sides of the ball. The turnovers and the blocked PAT were big differences in this one.”
On the fake field goal:
“Obviously, if I could go back and do it over I would. It wasn’t a guarantee we’d make that kick. It was 48 yards into the wind and Joe’s [Mansour] leg was looking a little off on kickoffs. I didn’t think he’d have enough pop to hit it through the wind and I thought it was a decent percentage of us making that play, it just didn’t work.”
On the play at quarterback:
“It was a frustrating day for Jalen, we didn’t play good enough at that position. I thought he had tough runs and we moved the chains. We’re doing the best we can, we need to get mores support around him.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown said he wouldn’t know until after today’s practice whether freshman Ryan Timmons, UK’s second leading receiver, would play at Vanderbilt Saturday. Timmons injured his ankle against Alabama State and did not play last week against Missouri. Brown said the Franklin County product was “getting better” daily.
“If he does play, it probably will be in a limited role,” Brown said Wednesday.
Brown said Timmons will continue to blossom at receiver and running back in the years ahead.
“I think he’s learning at wide receiver. The way he was used in high school is really kind of the same way we’re using him right now, in a sort of hybrid running back/receiver,” Brown said. “He can improve his route-running a lot. You’re going to see a ton of growth between where he’s at now and when we kick off the season next year, where he’s at from a route-running potential. But I’m pleased with him. He’s given us quite a bit.”
Here’s more of what Brown had to say after Wednesday’s practice — UK’s final media availability of the week — going into the Vanderbilt game.
Question: Is quarterback Jalen Whitlow becoming a better leader?
Brown: “ “I think he’s growing. Yeah, I think he’s growing. I think he gets better – as we go along, I think he gets better. Is he where I would like him to be? Probably not. But I don’t know if that’s the case for anybody. I think coaches, by nature, we always want more. But I think he’s getting better. And I always have to remind myself that he’s a young kid that hasn’t played quarterback a whole lot. So I think he’s getting better.”
Question: Is anyone else showing the leadership you are looking for?
Brown: “Yeah, well, really I think our seniors have done a pretty decent job. I know our record doesn’t show that, but I think those guys have really competed hard. I think Jordan Aumiller has had a really successful senior season. I think he’s done a really good job from a leadership standpoint. I think Kevin Mitchell is playing through a lot of injuries. He’s done a good job just by toughness; not a real vocal guy but a good job. I tell you somebody that’s really growing, that I’m really encouraged by for the future is Jordan Swindle. He’s really playing well, at a high level. He competes hard, he plays hard, he’s tough. So he’s a guy that I think has a lot of potential to kind of take the reins in a leadership role as we go forward.”
Question: Does it help that Swindle, a tackle, has a nasty streak?
Brown: “Yeah, no question. I think any really good football team that I’ve ever been on, the tone is always set up front. And I really believe that you have to have some nastiness. You’ve got to play within the rules, don’t get me wrong, but you want a tough, physical presence up front. And when you have that, you have an opportunity to be good. Last year (at Texas Tech), arguably our best player was our left tackle. His name is LaAdrian Waddle. He’s starting for the Detroit Lions now, and he was a physical, nasty — and I mean that in a positive way — player, and he set the tone for everything we did on offense.”
Question: Is Whitlow doing things that you can build the offense on?
Brown: ““I think you see positive signs, no question. I thought he ran the ball extremely well in the third quarter (against Missouri). Now we’ve got to get him to do that all the time, but I thought he ran the ball really, really well in the third quarter. And hit a couple deep balls – the one that Ray fumbled, I thought that was a really nice pass. It’s the same exact play against Alabama State that he kind of bounced out there. So I think you see improvement. I think he can still play at a high level all the time. I think he is, like a lot of us on offense, inconsistent. But I do see things that lead me to believe that he can be a really good quarterback in this league.”
Question: What do you still need physically from Whitlow?
Brown: “I think he’s got to be consistently accurate with the football. I think that’s – and he knows that. He’s been inconsistent passing the ball. But there’s signs in every game that he’s played that he’s capable of doing that. We’ve just got to get him, from a fundamentals standpoint, to do that consistently.”
Question: What about his decision-making?
Brown: “I think it’s a work in progress. I think it’s significantly better than it was the Western Kentucky game. You know, we give him a lot of latitude. We don’t necessarily check a bunch of plays at the line of scrimmage, but in our offense we try to be as all-purpose as possible. Because we used to be an outfit that kind of checked at the line of scrimmage and maybe was a look-at-me a little bit more, where we all looked to the sideline, but defensive coordinators really caught onto that; when we check, they’re checking. So what we do is we try to have all-purpose plays where we’ve got maybe it’s a run/pass, a run/screen combination, and the quarterback makes the decision at the line of scrimmage either to run the ball or throw the ball. And those things, Jalen’s much improved, but he can still get better. What it does is it gives you easy yards. So if the numbers are in the box, he can throw it outside and we can get easier yards than trying to block all those people inside.”
Question: Are his mechanics improving?
Brown: “Yeah, no question. And you all can tell, too, with the naked eye: when his feet are really close together, he’s not accurate. And he’s improving. At that technical issue, he is improving. He’s definitely improving.”
Question: Why is walk-on fullback Cody Jones playing so much?
Brown: “He’s just determined. He’s really – I should’ve talked about him from a leadership standpoint because he’s given us some backbone. He’s a tough, physical kid, from Kentucky, walked on here. It’s important to him. And his toughness shows. And he just won the job. He really just won the job. He competed. I think we had him at five or six knockdown blocks in the game. And he’s been a real pleasant surprise.”