Stoops has chosen UK's starting QB, but won't announce it before Saturday's opener

jsmith3@herald-leader.comAugust 26, 2013 

  • Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday
    Where: LP Field in Nashville
    TV: ESPNews
    Radio: WBUL-FM 98.1; WLAP-AM 630; WWRW-FM 105.5

Mark Stoops is a defense guy.

He's been studying and breaking down opposing offenses for decades, or as Kentucky defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot sees it, since just after the head coach's birth.

"I didn't learn how to break down film until I graduated from college and (Stoops) knew how to break down film from the time he was 8 years old," Eliot joked this summer.

So as a defensive coordinator, which Kentucky quarterback would Stoops prefer to go up against?

Maxwell Smith or Jalen Whitlow?

"That's a very tricky question," Stoops said with a smirk at Monday's news conference to preview the Western Kentucky game this weekend.

"The simple answer to that question is one's a very dynamic runner and one's not," Stoops said, seemingly tipping his hand that Jalen Whitlow, the much more mobile, dual threat quarterback will be the Cats' starter on Saturday night.

"But it would be who's going to effectively run the offense," Stoops continued. "If a person is only a runner, then I would feel pretty good, as a defensive coordinator, being able to stop that. So I think it's whoever's running the offense most effectively."

When Stoops was asked if he was confident that Whitlow was more than just a runner, that he could move the offense, he nodded.

"I feel like he can operate the offense very effectively and he has done some very good things," Stoops said. "With that being said, Max is better in certain areas as well. We'll see how Jalen grows, and we'll see how Max grows. They're both very good players."

The one thing Stoops did give away is that he has chosen his starter. But chances are few people will know whether it's Smith or Whitlow until that player runs out for the Cats' first possession.

Stoops also made it clear that he plans to play both sophomores, but not at the expense of offensive production.

The plan is to get both of them some playing time, but it's not promised.

"We're not going to set anything in stone," Stoops said. "We'll name a starter. A starter's going to go out there, and he's going to go. He's going to run with it."

If things are going well, there won't be any situations like last season where there was a promise to play a player on a particular series. UK coaches are going to let it play out during the course of the game.

"If the other guy's rolling and we're doing well, then we may stick with it," Stoops said.

Whitlow, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound sophomore from Prattville, Ala., took over the UK offense as a true freshman when Smith went down with his second injury. In his seven starts, Whitlow completed 87 of 161 passes for 801 yards, three scores and three interceptions.

He definitely presents a problem daily for the UK defense, senior linebacker Avery Williamson said on Monday.

"It kind of throws you off on pass coverage sometimes because you're scared he's going to escape the pocket in an empty package or something like that," Williamson said. "Kind of worried about that and then he can throw the ball over your head, so as a defense, you don't want to see him in the open field, so it's tough."

At his own news conference on Monday afternoon, WKU Coach Bobby Petrino offered his own take on the Cats' quarterback quandary.

"They're both very good players," Petrino said. "When you look at the (Maxwell) Smith kid, he's a very, very good thrower, very accurate, more of a pocket passer. When you look at (Jalen) Whitlow he can still make all the throws that they want in their offense and he's got a quick release and he has the added challenge of defending the guy that can tuck the ball and run with it."

The Hilltoppers are prepping to see each of them and know each has strengths that can throw off a defense.

"We have to be aware of who's in the game," Petrino said. "Our calls won't change a whole lot, but you do have to be aware of rush lanes and how we're going to rush the passer and how we're gonna defend some of the quarterback run schemes when Whitlow's in the game."

Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown said during fall camp that Smith's pinpoint accuracy can be just as disarming as a running quarterback.

Before his season-ending injury against South Carolina last season, Smith had completed 68.7 percent of his passes, but all of his interceptions (four) came against Western Kentucky, including two on the Cats' first four possessions.

The starting quarterback will be told at some point this week, Stoops said on Monday, and the other players likely will get a feel for who it is based on which one is getting first-team reps.

But for now, the coach plans to keep his plans to himself.

"It's been a close battle the whole time," he said. "Might as well use it to our advantage, if it is one. I'm sure they'll be prepared for both guys."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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