John Clay: It's Whitlow's show now at QB

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 2, 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)

From here on out, it's the Whitlow Show.

The week began with Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops questioning his sophomore quarterback's toughness, and it ended with a clear picture perhaps for the first time this season that Jalen Whitlow is the Cats' quarterback.

The Montgomery, Ala., native threw for 186 yards and rushed for 101 more, including an 88-yard wind sprint to the end zone on the second play of the game, as the Cats routed Alabama State 48-14 for their first win since way back on Sept. 7. Maxwell Smith was the quarterback that day when the Cats manhandled Miami (Ohio). Whitlow had started the week before in the season-opening loss to Western Kentucky. And it has been back and forth at the position all season, sometimes using a two-quarterback attack for a one-quarterback system.

Stoops changed all that Monday. UK was fresh off a frustrating 28-22 loss against Mississippi State, one in which Smith started and played most of the way, but couldn't get the Cats over the hump. It was a game Kentucky could have won.

So at his weekly presser, Stoops announced that Whitlow had a sprained shoulder to go along with his gimpy ankle, and it didn't matter.

Johnny Manziel had bounced back from a shoulder injury to lead Texas A&M over Vanderbilt. Connor Shaw had come off the bench with a knee injury to rally South Carolina to a thrilling overtime win at Missouri. If they could play, then Whitlow could play.

So Saturday night against a SWAC team on a six-game win streak, Whitlow played. And on the second play of the contest, he took off from his own 12-yard line and didn't stop running until he had reached the Alabama State end zone.

By the time Whitlow was relieved in the third quarter, he had completed 16 of 26 passes for 186 yards and two scores, while running 10 times for 101 yards and two scores.

That meant he was the first Kentucky quarterback to throw for two touchdowns and run for two touchdowns in the same game since Shane Boyd way back in 2004.

"I was happy with the way he accepted the challenge," Stoops said.

Is it safe to say it's his job from here on out?

"I think so," Stoops said.

Whitlow wasn't perfect by any means. One snap, he would bounce a short pass at a receiver's feet. The next snap, he would fire a rope over the middle for a nice gain and a first down.

"I think he can be better with his progressions," Stoops said. "Our execution can get better."

At one point, Whitlow had Jordan Aumiller open at the goal line and missed the tight end for what would have been another score. At another point, he hit tight end Steven Borden in stride down the right sideline for a 38-yard touchdown and the 48-7 cushion.

"I thought he threw the ball really well on his down-the-field throws," said offensive coordinator Neal Brown.

"I know I can do better," said Whitlow.

Despite his inconsistencies in the passing game, Whitlow can move. He can extend plays with his legs. He has to be accounted for on the zone read. Once he gets into the second level of the defense he can be tough to catch.

"He ran around and just made plays," Stoops said.

Health permitting, he should get better the more he plays. He was forced into action last season as a true freshman, and that experience should help him as the Cats head into the final stretch — a quartet of games to finish the season.

Missouri comes to town next week sitting firmly in the Southeastern Conference East driver's seat. Then comes back-to-back road games at Vanderbilt and Georgia. Both games will be tough, but given Georgia's injuries, both are games in which the Cats should be competitive (at least). Tennessee visits Commonwealth Stadium to finish the season.

Barring another injury, one serious enough to send the sophomore to the sideline, it's the Whitlow Show now.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

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