Kentucky-Alabama State football notes: Whitlow wary of Hornets' pass rush

jsmith3@herald-leader.comNovember 1, 2013 

  • Tennessee at Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30

    TV: ESPNU

    Records: Kentucky 2-9 (0-7 SEC); Tennessee 4-7 (1-6)

Jalen Whitlow won't have much time to get comfortable in his starting role this weekend.

The Kentucky quarterback, who has been battling an ankle injury and a shoulder injury, is unlikely to get many chances to ease back into his position.

Alabama State's defense rarely lets any quarterback get comfortable.

The Hornets will aggressively go after any player behind the line of scrimmage any chance they get.

"They're going to bring six or seven quite a bit, probably more so than what we've seen," UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown said of Alabama State, a Football Championship Subdivision team that will be facing a Southeastern Conference school for the first time.

It's been an effective plan this season for Alabama State, which has 38 sacks in eight games and a whopping 80 tackles for loss, paced by freshman linebacker Kourtney Berry, who has 70 tackles, including seven for a loss and five sacks.

By comparison, Clemson leads Football Bowl Subdivision schools with 73 tackles for loss and 29 sacks this season.

Senior linebacker Leland Baker, who has 141/2 tackles for loss and five sacks this season, quickly will do what he can to get acquainted with Whitlow.

"I'm just gonna go out there and try to win, make the right reads and get the ball out of my hands before the house gets there," Whitlow said.

The sophomore quarterback said he was well aware of the Hornets' aggressive attack. But he doesn't focus on it.

"Just do what you're coached to do," he said. "Coach is going to put you in the right position."

Kentucky's offensive line showed it's capable of protecting Whitlow against an aggressive attack, holding South Carolina's defense to just four tackles for loss, the Gamecocks' fewest of the season. Their two sacks were tied for the fewest of the season.

In its last game against Mississippi State, the Cats' line held the Bulldogs to just one sack.

They'd like to see that trend continue.

"We've played pretty good competition, and we've looked pretty good at times," UK Coach Mark Stoops said when asked about the Hornets' 80 tackles for loss. "If we execute and do the things we're capable of, then that's what I'm most concerned with."

Hatcher ready to return

Sometimes a player plays so well that he doesn't come off the field.

So like his UK coaches, Jason Hatcher could only stand and watch teammate Alvin "Bud" Dupree's career night against Mississippi State that included 13 tackles — two for a loss — and a quarterback sack last Thursday.

Being Dupree's backup meant Hatcher mostly just had to pay attention and learn.

"I was just watching Bud and I was trying to turn that negative situation into a positive by watching what he was doing and some of the plays he was making," said Hatcher, a true freshman defensive end who has 14 tackles this season. "I feel like that can really help my game."

It helped that Dupree was playing well, but UK also wanted to give Hatcher a chance to heal from a hand injury that has forced him to play in a bulky cast.

Quick hitters

■ In its first two games, UK was penalized 21 times for 186 yards. In the five games since then, the Cats have been penalized just 20 times for 158 yards.

"We're playing much cleaner," Stoops said. " ... When you're not getting wins, it's not clean enough. So we need to get better."

■ Some Alabama State players will be familiar to UK's starting quarterback.

"Alabama State is in my hometown," said Whitlow, a Montgomery native. "I know a lot of the guys on the team. Three of them are from my high school."

■ The guarantee game with the Hornets is a one-game deal signed in July 2011. The contract says UK will pay Alabama State a flat fee of $500,000.

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

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