Mark Stoops is looking for a lot of change and a lot of improvement come Saturday when his Kentucky Wildcats meet Miami of Ohio in the home opener at Commonwealth Stadium, but the one change everyone always wants to talk about is at quarterback.
Maxwell Smith will start. Jalen Whitlow will be the backup. It's a flip-flop from Saturday against the Hilltoppers. And no one who watched the fourth quarter was particularly surprised when the depth chart came out at the press luncheon today and Smith was listed on top.
Stoops said he liked some of the things Smith did on the field when the sophomore completed eight of 13 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown as the Kentucky offense scored nine points in the final quarter with Smith at the helm.
The head coach said he liked what Smith was doing on the sidelines when Whitlow was the starter and played the first three quarters. The backup was involved with the offense and game in general and was ready to go when called upon. Stoops expects Whitlow to do the same on Saturday.
Indeed, 164 of UK's 419 total yards cmae in the fourth quarter with Smith at quarterback. The Cats had a chance to score more only to see true freshman Ryan Timmons fumble the ball away after a 33-yard run in which the Franklin County star showed an impressive burst.
Many thought Smith would be the starting quarterback all along. He is considered a more accurate passer than Whitlow and accuracy is a pre-requisite of Neal Brown's Air Raid offense. Whitlow offered the threat of a running quarterback, however, and followed through on that Saturday with a 19-yard touchdown run and a 50-yard run.
“We're not blaming the loss on Jalen by any means,” Stoops said.
Whitlow completed 10 of 15 passes, but for just 78 yards. Smith showed more of an ability to get the ball down the field, and did it at a time in the game when Western knew that Kentucky, playing catch-up, was going to throw the football.
Is the switch the right move? It is given the guidelines going into the Western game, that the quarterback competition was almost too close to call and that part of the separation process would occur on the LP Field. Smith played better. He deserves to start. The guess is that Whitlow will play, as well.
Yet it's the other changes that will probably have more to do with UK's future success. The Cats must do a much better job against the run than they did Saturday. On Monday, Stoops blamed that not so much on the defensive line — although he said they tried to make too many plays — as he did the entire team concept on defense.
He said that too many players reverted to “bad habits.”
Quarterback switch aside, that's what really needs to change on Saturday.
- Video: Stoops on overconfidence issues and more
- A couple of silver linings from Saturday's loss
- Kentucky's offensive possessions vs. Western