Jalen Whitlow has never been "the guy."
Even as a high school senior, he split time at quarterback.
This season, as a freshman at Kentucky, he's split repetitions at different times with Maxwell Smith, Morgan Newton and fellow true freshman Patrick Towles.
But this week, thanks to injury after injury, Whitlow is the guy.
He took most of UK's snaps in practice — not only with the first team, but also the second team — in preparation for Saturday's game at Arkansas.
Whitlow admitted with a grin that he was a little worn out from all the extra work.
"It's high tempo, so we're running a lot," he said. "It's tough."
Coaches and teammates hope the practice pays off for the 6-foot-2, 202-pounder from Prattville, Ala.
Like most freshman quarterbacks, he's had varying degrees of success. Whitlow has completed 23 of 50 pass attempts for 199 yards in his four games, with a career-long of 24 yards.
When offensive coordinator Randy Sanders expanded the playbook against South Carolina, it resulted in Whitlow throwing two passes straight to the Gamecocks' defense.
Those two picks might have directly contributed to his struggles the next week against Mississippi State, when he connected on just 10 of his 21 tries for 73 yards.
"I don't know if the concern about turning the ball over kept him from throwing it, made him a little hesitant to do that," Sanders said of Whitlow. "That's very possible. Sometimes interceptions happen, but if you ever start playing too conservative or start playing scared at quarterback, it gets hard to pull the trigger."
The Cats (1-5, 0-3 Southeastern Conference), who have lost four straight, need an assertive Whitlow against the Razorbacks, who just halted their own four-game losing streak with a win at Auburn last week.
The Hogs (2-4, 1-2 SEC) have been miserable against the pass, ranking 118th out of 120 teams nationally. They've allowed 338 yards a game and 15 touchdowns while allowing opponents to complete 64 percent of their passes.
Which means Whitlow's likely to "pull the trigger," as Sanders put it, at some point.
The quarterback sounded more confident and prepared earlier this week.
"I'm getting more comfortable with delivery, the playbook and everything, just knowing my assignments, technique and everything like that," he said.
His teammates are seeing it, too.
"His confidence is up," senior wide receiver La'Rod King said. "He's throwing accurate balls."
Whitlow's confidence is the first thing that came to mind for senior center Matt Smith when asked about the freshman quarterback.
"A lot of people see that he's real quiet and a real humble guy and he is, but he plays with a lot of confidence, too," Smith said. "A lot of guys that you would expect to come in there and they just kind of freak out or hesitate on some things. He makes decisions and he goes with it. Even if it's the wrong decision, he still makes that decision. He goes full speed all the time."
Kentucky's coaches need Whitlow to be decisive this week and for the next few weeks.
"Decisions. He has to make decisions a lot quicker," Coach Joker Phillips said. "Is he open? Is he open? No. Let's go. Go. Run it. Throw it. Get it out of your hands. Let's not get ourselves in a broken-play situation."
While maintaining the base offense Maxwell Smith ran successfully the first few weeks of the season, UK has tweaked it slightly to play to Whitlow's strengths. One of those strengths is his ability to extend plays with his feet. He has scored on runs in each of the last two games.
Sanders would like to see Whitlow connect on some passes, too, to keep defenses honest.
"Sometimes his best runs come on drop-back passes when nobody's open, or maybe somebody's open but his eyes are in the wrong place and he pulls it down and takes off," Sanders said. "So we have to take advantage of all the tools we have,"
When asked recently what he liked most about Whitlow, his former high school coach at Prattville was succinct.
"He's a guy that really thrives under pressure. It doesn't rattle him a whole lot," Coach Jamey DuBose said. "He's not going to be denied."
Kentucky is counting on it now that Whitlow's the guy.