Kentucky finds patience required with freshman QB Whitlow

jsmith3@herald-leader.comOctober 17, 2012 

Almost all freshman quarterbacks are enigmas wrapped in puzzles, covered in uniforms and helmets.

Kentucky's Jalen Whitlow is no exception.

Thrown into emergency duty early in UK's Sept. 29 game against South Carolina, the freshman quarterback was poised and managed to complete more than half his passes for 114 yards.

He moved the offense, specifically in the first half.

In the past two games, after getting nearly every practice repetition at quarterback with both Maxwell Smith and Patrick Towles out with ankle injuries, Whitlow has struggled.

Against Mississippi State and Arkansas, he went a combined 12-for-31 for 156 yards. In his most recent game against the Razorbacks, he completed only two of his 10 pass attempts for 83 yards, in a game shortened because of bad weather.

Without his last pass of the game, a 61-yard touchdown to La'Rod King, he would have managed to throw for just 22 yards.

Is Whitlow regressing?

"It seems like we were farther away from executing them correctly last week than we were two weeks ago," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "We're trying to figure out why that is. Is it what the defense is doing or are those concepts not clicking in his brain or what do we need to do?"

Sanders said last week he worried that two interceptions thrown by the freshman against the Gamecocks had gotten in Whitlow's head.

"I think that could be part of it, but I don't know," Sanders said. "I wish I knew the answer to it. If I did, I could fix it right away. But it's one of the things we're trying to fix. There's a number of things we're trying to fix. There's nothing I've been able to put my finger on."

Whitlow admitted Wednesday that he's struggling to understand his passing problems as well.

"I don't know," he said when asked about his trouble with accuracy the past two weeks. "I'm still trying to ask myself that sometimes. Just going back to work, keep trying to get better."

That's the good news, Whitlow's coaches said, that freshmen tend to get better with experience.

"Every time he gets to come out here, he looks a little bit better because, again, he's so young," Coach Joker Phillips said. "We've just got to continue to get him reps."

When he can't find an open receiver, the coaches want Whitlow to make the decision to tuck and run with the ball more quickly.

Whitlow has had some success with that. He has run for two touchdowns and has a career-long 18-yard run.

But it's not enough.

"We're trying to figure out what he does well," Sanders said. "Obviously, we know he can pull it down and run with it, but we've got to get the thing out of our hand and get some passes down field."

The speed of the game has been a big transition for Whitlow, who played in a two-quarterback system at Prattville (Ala.) High School.

"You've just got to be quick because the rush comes at you pretty quick," Whitlow said. "Coverages (are) moving, so you've just got to think quick."

Whitlow is gaining confidence with each practice and game, he said, specifically that 61-yard scoring pass to King, the first of his young college career.

"After I threw (the touchdown pass) I felt like a light shined on me," he said. "I felt a little better, felt like I could've went back out there and got some more completions, just to pick some confidence up, just help pick my team up."

Injury update

Freshman quarterback Patrick Towles was back on the practice field Wednesday, but in tennis shoes instead of cleats and still with a slight limp as he recovers from a high ankle sprain. But Phillips said Towles won't play versus Georgia.

Also out for Saturday are senior defenders Mikie Benton and Martavius Neloms. Benton is still struggling with his own high ankle sprain. Neloms attempted to run on Wednesday, but reaggravated his hamstring injury, the coach said.

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241Twitter: @jenheraldleaderBlog:

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