By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — He’s not ready to say who should be the starting quarterback, but even coach Mark Stoops could not deny that sophomore Jalen Whitlow did his best to stake his claim to that spot with his play in Saturday’s Blue-White Game.
“Jalen did a nice job. He has that dimension to run the football and pull it down and create,” said Stoops. “He did a nice job tonight. I was impressed with the way he played.”
Whitlow easily had the best numbers in his continuing battle with Maxwell Smith and Patrick Towles. He was 17-for-29 passing for 193 yards and two scores and ran seven times for 49 yards. He hit A.J. Legree with a 16-yard scoring pass and Demarcus Sweat with a scoring toss of the same distance.
Smith was 11 of 18 for 108 yards and one score while Towles was just 6-for-14 for 65 yards and one score, but he also threw the game’s only interception.
Stoops said he felt the quarterback play “was solid again” and that each player “had their moments” during the game that ended spring practice.
“It’s not always on the quarterbacks. It’s about the other guys with them,” Stoops said.
The head coach said he wants players “to feel good about themselves, but it can’t be fake” and Whitlow made it clear he felt good about his play.
“I think I have improved a lot and I think I showed tonight what I can do,” Whitlow said.
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown has said he won’t name a starter until midway of preseason camp, but Stoops acknowledged that Whitlow made an impression in this game.
“I think he has earned the right to feel good about himself,” Stoops said.
However, Whitlow faces the same challenge this summer that the other quarterbacks do. “They have to work. Get with receivers and get on the same page. They have to be leaders on the field,” Stoops said.
Stoops did admit that a player’s performance in this game would carry extra weight when it comes to the depth chart, which could benefit Whitlow.
“Under the lights in a game setting, you want to see how they respond, how they play. You need playmakers to make plays when the lights come on,” Stoops said.
The coach did not see nearly enough offensive playmakers, but he said part of that was due to splitting the squad and limiting the offense’s ability to play fast due to a lack of depth.
“You did not see our offense at full strength. Our tempo was not what it has been. Part of that is numbers and being thin when we split into teams,” Stoops said. “When they are all together, they play at a higher tempo.”
Stoops said current player have to improve their playmaking skills along with incoming freshmen providing help for the offense.
“We are going to work hard to get better with guys that are here,” Stoops said. “Our incoming guys are going to help us as well. Our players will get better. They have got better and we need them to get even better.”