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By LARRY VAUGHT
While Kentucky coach Mark Stoops isn’t yet sure if there’s any chance quarterback Jalen Whitlow could be ready to play against Mississippi State Oct. 24, he did strongly hint Wednesday that it could be freshman Reese Phillips who plays if Maxwell Smith is injured at State.
Whitlow sprained his ankle last week against Alabama. Smith has battled a shoulder injury that offensive coordinator Neal Brown admitted Wednesday has impacted his velocity.
Sophomore Patrick Towles was pressed into duty — and gave up a redshirt season — midway of last year before he was hurt. Now Towles and Phillips, a true freshman, are both scheduled to be redshirt. However, if Whitlow can’t play and Smith is injured, either Phillips or Towles will have to play.
“I’ll probably tell you here prior to the game where we’re at as far as who would be the backup,” said Stoops Wednesday. “It’s going to be determined by how hurt Jalen is. If it’s going be one game, we don’t want either of those backup quarterbacks to play because we’d like to redshirt both of them.
“But Patrick sacrificed a little more in that he’s the sophomore and he wanted to take that redshirt (this season), so I think we got to be conscious of that as well. We’re just looking at the best option. Either of the guys would do whatever we needed them to do. They’ve been very unselfish.”
Towles wanted to redshirt after he failed to win the starting job in a preseason competition with Whitlow and Phillips.
“Once we told him where he was at, then of course he wanted to redshirt and get that year back from last year. And him being one year older, you’ve got to be a little bit conscious of where he’s at and what he’d like to do,” Stoops said.
“But on the same hand, if he’s going to get an opportunity to truly be the starting quarterback and play, he’s ready to go. Like I said, both of them are very unselfish. If we called them and said, ‘You’re in for four snaps’ and blew their redshirt year, they’d do it.”
Stoops knows he has to take “the best option to win” for his team but that it would be hard to use a potential redshirt year for Towles or Phillips to just play one game before Whitlow returns.
“There’s some factors that play into it because we’d like to redshirt both of the backup quarterbacks,” Stoops said.
Brown said both Phillips and Towles are “better” than they were when the season started.
“Both of them would like that opportunity. Obviously Reese is a true freshman, first time going through this deal. It’s a little bit unlucky for Patrick just cause it’s his second year going through this, second opportunity where he could potentially be redshirted,” Brown said Wednesday. “But both of them have a good attitude. We’re getting both of them a lot of work this week, and we’ll make a decision sometime later in the week.”
Brown said both he and Stoops have to balance what is best for the team along with what is fair and best for Towles and Phillips. But Towles, just as he did last year when Kentucky needed him, likely would give up his redshirt year if needed at Mississippi State.
“He’s good. He’s Kentucky through and through, team guy. He bleeds blue, he’s going to do whatever needs to be done to help the team,” Brown said.