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Jalen Whitlow will travel to Mississippi State, but Mark Stoops vague on QB's role in game


Kentucky quarterback Maxwell Smith will start Thursday against Mississippi State, but Mark Stoops was vague about how involved Jalen Whitlow could or would be with his injury. (Photo by James Pennington)

Kentucky quarterback Maxwell Smith will start Thursday against Mississippi State, but Mark Stoops was vague about how involved Jalen Whitlow could or would be with his injury. (Photo by James Pennington)

 

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, in his brief time as a head coach, has already mastered the art of one of the football coach’s most underrated weapons: the vague quote. Stoops gives out sound bites without saying anything at all as if reporters showed up on his front porch trick-or-treating for them, and Tuesday—Stoops’ final media availability before Thursday’s game against Mississippi State—may as well have been Halloween when he was asked about quarterback Jalen Whitlow’s status for the game.
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To Stoops’ credit, he did say Maxwell Smith would start Thursday, 12 days after spraining his left ankle against Alabama. But when asked about Whitlow’s status, he flipped on the linguistic camouflage without skipping a beat.

 

“Yeah, he’ll be ready to go—yeah, if we need him,” Stoops said. “Again, I think Max got most of the reps last week and this week, but Jalen will be ready to go. We’ll use him if we need to.”

 

The quote presents one primary question: What here is the definition of “need?” Kentucky’s offense has looked at its best with Whitlow leading it this season, even if we only have one full game from which to draw this conclusion. In his first game as the full-time quarterback on Oct. 5, Whitlow led a fourth-quarter comeback that fell just short on the road against No. 13 South Carolina.

 

Whitlow finished that game with 178 yards and two touchdowns in the air, and 69 yards and a score on the ground, all on the road against a defense ranked routinely high across the SEC’s different defensive statistic leaderboards.

 

Smith has not looked nearly as sharp since injuring his shoulder against Louisville. Of course, his only two games were against Florida and Alabama; Alabama is the top team in the country, and Florida has one of the best secondaries anywhere in college football. He finished with 90 yards passing against the Gators and 76 against the Crimson Tide.

 

Perhaps more importantly than statistics against immovable forces of art and science such as the Florida and Alabama defenses, Smith did not have nearly the zip on his throws he had previously in his career. His shoulder has ailed him all season—so much so, his coaches’ advice to him heading into the beginning of this season was paraphrased down to, “When you get hit, just … don’t fall on your shoulder”—but after taking a hit against Louisville, the strength of his throws seems to have been down that much more.

 

So does “need” mean he’ll only be used in case of an emergency, leaving the quarterbacking to Smith against the Bulldogs, or does “need” mean Whitlow will be a part of the game plan, to be used as needed to vary the looks UK is sending Mississippi State’s way? Stoops said throughout the week that Whitlow was back in practice, that Smith was still the primary quarterback but that Whitlow was out there on the field to an undisclosed extent and level of effectiveness.

 

Stoops answered that question as only a coach would.

 

“I’m going to leave it at that. I mean, I’m giving you guys a lot right there, give me some credit,” Stoops said, realizing how little he was saying. “I said Max is starting and Jalen will be ready, and we’ll use him if needed. Does anything else need to be said, really? We’ve got other players on this team, too.”


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