Kentucky's rotating QBs double trouble for Louisville defense

jsmith3@herald-leader.comSeptember 13, 2013 

Like ducklings, they line up behind Vince Marrow waiting for him to yell their names.

"All I hear is on the headset: 'Vince, Jalen in' or 'Vince, Max in.' That's all I hear," said Marrow, the Kentucky tight ends coach and the official doorman for the Cats' revolving door on offense.

Marrow is in charge of rotating in wide receivers, tight ends and — in this crazy, up-tempo offense — even quarterbacks.

In Kentucky's 41-7 win over Miami (Ohio) last Saturday, which included 74 plays and 675 yards of total offense, Marrow got tired just thinking about it.

He lost track of how many times offensive coordinator Neal Brown called for a new quarterback to go in.

"You've really got to be in tune when you're swapping in two quarterbacks, because when Neal calls their name, you've got to get them in there," Marrow said. "It means it's a very specific play."

In all, Marrow ran sophomores Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow in and out 13 times in the first half. It got a little less hectic in the second half, with Whitlow starting the first series and the two alternating series from there.

And while it seems exhausting for the doorman, it seems to reinvigorate the offense each time.

"It doesn't matter which one's in there, our offense seems pretty fired up each time one of them comes in because they feel like there are plays to be made," Marrow said.

And perhaps more importantly — as Kentucky prepares to take on No. 7 Louisville, the first of four straight ranked opponents — the two-man system has the potential to confound defenses.

"Having two quarterbacks can create some issues for you if you don't get aligned," Cardinals Coach Charlie Strong said this week.

It was a problem for Miami a week ago.

The RedHawks came in knowing full well that Smith was the passing quarterback and Whitlow the running/sometimes passing quarterback, but it didn't mean they were able to react in time.

"They presented a lot of trouble as you saw early in the first half because they did a good job of mixing their quarterbacks so we couldn't really get a bead on one guy," Miami Coach Don Treadwell said. "Stoops and them had a great game plan and they kind of really just freely mixed those guys in and that presented some problems for us."

On the first series alone, Smith went five plays, then Whitlow two. On the next series, the players alternated multiple times, throwing off the defense.

"There was not a whole lot of scientific reason that went into when I was rolling them in and when I was rolling them out," Brown said. "Pretty much went on gut instinct on that. And that's probably the way it'll be for a while."

And while the UK offensive coordinator admitted that it's more difficult on him (and Marrow), Brown thinks it helps give UK an edge.

"I liked it. I liked it," head coach Mark Stoops said. "Neal had a great feel for it, and it may be what the quarterbacks needed as well. Just eliminate a little bit of pressure from them, and they both have their strengths, like we said, and our offense has some good packages with both of them."

It hasn't been more difficult on the other players. Center Jon Toth said he barely notices who's back there until he looks between his legs and hears the voice.

Running backs Raymond Sanders and Jonathan George said they got used to the quarterbacks rotating so often in practice — as coaches were spending all fall trying to determine their starter — that it's become second nature.

"It's been like a smooth process I feel like for everybody on the offense," George said. "It showed Saturday: both guys can come in and produce and make plays."

Every time Marrow called his name and he swapped out with Smith, Whitlow said he could see the defense respond.

"You can kind of tell that they're on their heels, because they don't know what to expect sometimes," said Whitlow, whose 36 snaps on Saturday turned into 261 yards of offense, including the sophomore's 9-yard rushing touchdown to open the game.

"When I come out there, they expect me to run the ball probably. Then we fake the run and throw the pass and they're like, 'Oh, man.' So it's hard to adjust to having two different quarterbacks, two different styles."

Whitlow passed 12 times, completing 10 of those for 103 yards. He ran seven times for 48 yards.

Smith, whose 38 snaps led to 414 yards and four touchdowns (three passing and a 5-yard touchdown run for Sanders in the second quarter), said it's a system that makes sense for UK right now.

"It's something I've never done before, so it's definitely strange, but it throws the defense for a loop," Smith said. "They've always got to be aware of who's in and if they're not, it could be a positive for us."

The UK starter said he thinks it's all about "down and distance every time" for Brown.

"Coach Brown's like, 'I want to call this play right here, so it's time to put Jalen in.' We've just got to trust Coach because we know he's going to call the best play possible."

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

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