UK Football: Whitlow ready for his second chance at quarterback
Kentucky quarterback Jalen Whitlow scores on an 8-yard touchdown run during the second quarter of the Wildcats' 38-17 loss to South Carolina on Saturday. Whitlow was pressed into service when starter Maxwell Smith was injured on Kentucky's first offensive series. (Victoria Graff / September 30, 2012)
Whitlow turned out to be Kentucky coach Joker Phillips’ first option even before Smith could get settled down in his first outing in two weeks.
The redshirt freshman made his debut in the second half of Kentucky’s 38-0 loss at Florida last week, throwing for 12 yards on seven attempts, but was given more of a prominent role following Smith’s injury less than 3 minutes into Saturday’s game against South Carolina.
He completed 12 of 23 passes for 124 yards with two interceptions in Kentucky’s 38-17 loss at Commonwealth Stadium.
Whitlow followed Morgan Newton in the loss to the Gators, a game that was decided before Whitlow took his first collegiate snap.
This time, he was prepared.
“I think I did alright,” Whitlow said. “I just had to manage the game and do what I can do and not try to do too much. I just did what I could do and try to move the chains.”
For one half, he kept Kentucky’s offense on the move. Whitlow’s performance was a nightmare for South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who suffered his first-ever loss to the Wildcats in his last visit to Lexington two years ago.
Whitlow inspired an offensive unit that went scoreless against the Gators but scored 17 points against the sixth-ranked team in the nation.
Kentucky offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said it was Whitlow’s competitive spirit that prevented the team from suffering a total letdown following Smith’s departure.
“I thought Jalen competed,” Sanders said. “He did battle. I kept telling him over and over that your main job is to run the team and take care of the football. I thought for most of the game he did a decent job of that.”
At times, Whitlow ventured away from the playbook by making plays and sustaining drives with his own creativity, especially in the opening half.
“We ran some plays out there I’ve never seen before,” Sanders said. “Thing was, he was able to scramble and make some plays on a few of them.”
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said Whitlow “extended plays” and kept the offense on the field for an extended period of time.
“He made some plays for us in the quarterback run game,” Phillips said. “He also made plays making throws to our receivers. That was encouraging for us and it looked like he had been there.”
During the first two quarters, Whitlow completed eight passes in 13 attempts for 71 yards, including a pair of 20-yard completions to Demarco Robinson and A.J. Legree.
He also rushed for 13 yards during the first two quarters, including an 8-yard touchdown run with 5 minutes, 33 seconds left in the first half for his first collegiate score, giving the Wildcats a 10-7 lead. That margin increased to 17-7 with 1:41 remaining in the half on a 10-yard run by Raymond Sanders.
“I got into a little bit of a rhythm,” Whitlow said. “I was feeling pretty good.”
Whitlow’s magic wore down in the second half. He was sacked four times and threw the first ot two interceptions with 8:53 remaining as South Carolina erased Kentucky’s hopes for an upset.
“We just lost our focus,” Whitlow said. “We lost some intensity (and) I was holding on to the ball too long. We got some sacks and a couple of interceptions. We’ve just got to put it all together and stay focused, keep the intensity high and make plays.”
He said the difference in the two halves was South Carolina’s defense.
“They were coming,” he said. “I was sitting in there and I was holding onto the ball too long.”