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Jalen Whitlow ‘better be ready’ for Saturday’s game, Stoops said in fiery news conference

Kentucky quarterback Jalen Whitlow is fighting ankle and shoulder injuries, but Mark Stoops said he should be ready to go Saturday vs. Alabama State. (Photo by James Pennington)

Kentucky quarterback Jalen Whitlow is fighting ankle and shoulder injuries, but Mark Stoops said he should be ready to go Saturday vs. Alabama State. (Photo by James Pennington)


Kentucky coach Mark Stoops returned from a 28-22 loss to Mississippi State on Thursday, brewed for a few days and calmed down just in time to blow off all that pent-up steam at his weekly news conference Monday.
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He was upset at just about everything. He was cranked up, too. His bottle of water sat untouched on the dais, but he reached for his coffee between what seemed like every answer. When he left the news conference, he grabbed the coffee but left the water. He never touched it once.


He still had his occasional touch of humor, and he still had a general overcoat of calm. But through that gleam, his words were much more biting than usual.  He was not shy about the fact he thinks his team lacks the toughness it needs to persevere in SEC play, toughness that includes something mental and something physical.


He referenced a handful of players whom he said demonstrated toughness by playing through injuries. Jason Hatcher and Blake McClain, for instance, have played through hand injuries with casts on their hands. Bud Dupree had 13 tackles at defensive end Thursday, and he’s far from 100 percent, Stoops said. Stoops also referenced Avery Williamson, Ashely Lowery, Raymond Sanders and Kevin Mitchell.


Stoops pointed to South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw, who has been injured all season and led the Gamecocks on a comeback overtime win on the road against Missouri this weekend. Johnny Manziel’s name was thrown out as someone who has played banged up but missed almost no time even though he could easily rest on his laurels.


The points were all made with what seemed like a slant toward UK’s banged-up quarterback, Jalen Whitlow, who was never mentioned. Whitlow played sparingly against Mississippi State, and Stoops made it more than clear Monday that Whitlow was the starter this week and that he’s Kentucky’s best option if he can play.


Whitlow suffered a sprained ankle on Oct. 12 against Alabama, and he’s also now dealing with an injury to the AC joint in his shoulder.


But that’s part of playing football, Stoops said, and he didn’t mince words.


“I see it as a guy that’s leading the program in the SEC and I see other SEC players banged up and leading their team to victory, don’t you? That’s what we need to do.”


Stoops finally revealed Monday who his third quarterback option is if Whitlow and Maxwell Smith were both unavailable or if the situation got desperate enough competitively to make a change. That backup is freshman Reese Phillips, who has not played this season with the intent of taking a redshirt. But Stoops hinted further Monday that if he’s the best competitive option at any point, Phillips would not hesitate to enter a game.


“Reese, he’s always done a nice job of managing the game, going back to the spring game, all the scrimmages he’s been in, the scrimmages we did this year during the year,” Stoops said. “He takes care of the football. If nothing else, if we get ourselves with certain plays and checks and run‑pass options, if we just execute the call, we give ourselves a chance. We’re not even doing that at times, and that’s frustrating, let alone throws or different things. It’s just putting ourselves, putting our team in a position to be successful with decisions. I think he does a nice job of protecting the football, and I think he does a nice job with his decision making.”


For Stoops, the key is competition, and the lack of competition is what pried its way under his fingernails and had him as wound up as he was Monday. But even though he was on fire, it wasn’t necessarily a bad fire. He made sure to mention things he saw that he liked, because he’s made a point of that throughout this season to make sure his players know when they’re building in the right direction.


“I think we all see us resembling a good football team from time to time, but that’s not going to cut it and win you a lot of games in the SEC,” Stoops said. “You’ve got to be good top to bottom, and you’ve got to be good in critical situations, and most importantly when you’re under pressure situations, our habits, bad habits, come right to the surface.”

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