Mark Story: What would constitute success for UK football in 2013?

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistApril 15, 2013 

Ten quick takeaways from a University of Kentucky spring football game like no other.

10. Neal Brown. The young UK offensive coordinator was pleased as punch with having all three starting quarterback aspirants — Maxwell Smith, Patrick Towles, Jalen Whitlow — on the field together for the first play from scrimmage Saturday night. "I did that for you," Brown joked with the media afterward. "Now, ya'll can't say which (QB) started the game."

9. Jalen Whitlow. I do not think the sophomore from Prattville, Ala., won the quarterback job with his strong performance (17-for-28 passing for 193 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions) in the Blue-White Game. I do believe Whitlow played his way into a viable chance to win the job.

The big question: Can a guy who completed only 54 percent of his passes last season as a true freshman throw accurately enough to make Brown's new version of the Air Raid offense go? If Whitlow's passing becomes even close to as reliable as the other UK quarterback candidates, then it makes his ability to run the ball a trump card the others lack.

8. Maxwell Smith. Hal Mumme used to say the Air Raid was largely based on a quarterback hitting receivers in stride and giving playmakers a chance to take short passes and turn them into long gains. The need for a QB to make quick reads and throw the ball accurately is why Smith should hardly be counted out of the starting quarterback battle in spite of Whitlow's strong spring game.

7. The crowd. Walking around outside Commonwealth Stadium early Saturday evening before the Blue-White Game, I heard the familiar sound of ... ticket scalpers? Who needs lowers? Who needs the lower bowl? That people appeared to be selling tickets — that were free when originally distributed — for an intrasquad, spring football game at Kentucky was little short of astounding.

6. 50,831. UK football publicist Tony Neely explained Monday that the attendance figure announced for the game was an estimate compiled by Kentucky athletics officials. "The game management people, sports information people, we all estimated what we thought the crowd was, then settled on a figure that was mid-range (from the estimates)," Neely said.

To my naked eye, there appeared to be more people in Commonwealth on Saturday night than there were for any home game during the 2012 season — when the largest actual attendance was the 43,174 who saw Western Kentucky upset UK.

"I was amazed," said new UK Coach Mark Stoops of the fan turnout.

5. UK sports marketers. From the sleek posters designed to promote the Blue-White Game to the in-game presentation that featured the return of the Air Raid sirens and an in-stadium emcee (WKYT-TV's Brian Milam) conducting interviews with notables such as Tim Couch, the Kentucky athletics administration did a first-rate job capitalizing on the "Stoops boom."

4. Josh Clemons. After missing last season with a knee injury, Clemons (10 carries, 56 yards; two receptions, 17 yards) was making sharp cuts Saturday night and looked to have his speed back. I haven't seen enough of sophomore Dyshawn Mobley to form much of an opinion on him, but a healthy Clemons is a grade above the other running backs currently on the UK roster.

3. Wide receivers. Junior Demarco Robinson (six catches, 93 yards) and sophomores Rashad Cunningham (seven for 79) and A.J. Legree (seven, 68) had nice games but, overall, the Kentucky receiving corps looked pretty common Saturday.

2. An under-the-radar player to watch. Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Patrick Graffree (Central Hardin) was credited with a sack for the Blue and a tackle for loss for the White.

1. Expectations. The main question for the first year of the Stoops era is whether UK, coming off a 2-10 season and facing a schedule whose strength borders on the sadistic, can play well enough in 2013 to maintain the good feelings and (recruiting) momentum that Kentucky football currently enjoys?

"Now, our fans gotta have a little patience with us," Neal Brown said. "I think they saw that (Saturday night). It's going to take a little time. But our kids will play hard and they are going to play physical. And we're going to put them in a position to be successful."

So, UK football fan, what would constitute "success" for the Wildcats in 2013?

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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