A year ago the Kentucky offense was struggling for any productivity for a number of reasons from a banged up offensive line to receivers who dropped passes to a lack of a playmaking running back to the inconsistency of quarterback Morgan¿Newton.
Now the Cats are coming off a 47-point game that featured pinpoint passing by sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith, clutch catches by receivers and numerous big plays. Kentucky has changed to a hurry-up, quick passing offense to take advantage of Smith’s accuracy and decision making.
But what does that mean for UK’s other quarterbacks?
Newton, a senior, started eight games in 2009, backed up Mike Hartline in 2010 and was the starter last year until getting hurt. Now that he failed to beat out Smith, Kentucky coach Joker Phillips is using him at other spots and will continue to do so. He even made a key block on a receiver screen Saturday that Demarcus Sweat turned into a touchdown.
“We have to try to figure out different ways (to use him). Again, it's just hard,” said Phillips. “We've got just small packages. He didn't get a lot of reps last week, maybe five to 10 reps last week at the things that we asked him to do. And (we) asked him to do the block on the perimeter, on the touchdown. I don't know if he practiced that one time.
“Some of those things he shouldn't have to practice if you've been the quarterback around here. But we'll continue to build on the packages that he can do. Last week he was more in the bunch package and
See ROLE, B2
ning routes, and then we get in the game, and he didn't run any routes. He blocked the whole time and did a really good job.
“He was at times a little bit more explosive than even our tight ends. And we don't really know how strong he is. I think he's a really strong kid. Nobody knows because quarterbacks don't work out like the tight ends, but I think he is a strong, physical guy.”
Phillips’ theory is that Newton is too talented to stand and watch, especially as a senior. Nothing wrong with that thinking. It’s creative and Newton certainly has shown he wants to play and contribute. He’s still No. 2 on the depth chart at quarterback if something does happen to Smith.
True freshman Jalen Whitlow of Alabama had an impressive preseason camp. Now he’s No. 3 on the depth chart, but with Newton opting to play other positions he likely will get more reps at quarterback than Newton and could truly be Smith’s backup. In fact, both Newton and Whitlow were in the game together against Kent State, something Phillips said was more coincidence than planned.
“We didn't have a package for both of them. It was just, ‘Hey, Morgan, you go in at H¿back right now, and we wanted to get Whitlow a series (at quarterback). We'd like to have gotten Whitlow a series even earlier. We just didn't do a good job of scoring enough earlier or getting them stopped early enough,” Phillips said.
Whitlow said Tuesday there are no special packages just for him when he’s in the game.
“I wouldn’t say packages, but there are a couple of plays that I¿run that are pretty much quarterback runs,” he said.
There was speculation he might be used some as a receiver much like Randall Cobb was during his career when Whitlow arrived at UK from Alabama. He says he’s strictly a quarterback now, something he likes. However, that means he has no other way to get on the field.
“That is true. Not getting on the field is really never okay. I¿like to play football. Max is a good quarterback. I just have to sit back and learn from him,” Whitlow said. “I am just working hard to do my best. I don’t feel like I¿have done my best yet. I¿have a lot to learn yet and am still catching on. Just learning small things about a complex offense.”
That’s why during games he stays as close to Smith and offensive coordinator Randy Sanders as possible.
“You have got to be a sponge. I just try to sit back and listen and take notes and learn what they learn and be upbeat on everything,” Whitlow said.
What did Whitlow do to elevate himself above Patrick Towles, the record-setting freshman from Highlands who was Kentucky’s Mr. Football last year when his team won a third straight state championship?
“It's different. Different quarterback. Again, we have to get the third guy ready, and I just think a guy (Whitlow) that can win with his legs and some of our passing game, I just thought he would be the guy we'd go with,” Phillips said. “It has nothing to do with the future, but we just thought we had to make a decision, and we made the decision to go with Whitlow.”
Whitlow says there are no problems between him and Towles — who Phillips says likely will be redshirted — even though they are competing for the same position.
“We get along fine. We talk just like regular teammates,” Whitlow said. “He can throw the ball well. He has a strong arm.”
Stronger than you?
“I¿don’t know. We have never really had a contest, but I¿know he can throw the ball pretty far and is really a good quarterback and teammate,” Whitlow said.
Minter denies confrontation
Kentucky defense coordinator Rick Minter Tuesday denied a report that there had been a confrontation between head coach Joker Phillips and himself over UK’s defensive play in the season-opening loss to Louisville.
Kentucky Sports Radio reported that there had been a confrontation over alignment and strategy and that changes were made in the second half of UK’s win over Kent State Saturday.
“I’m not going to talk about that. It didn’t happen. Now what’s next?” said Minter Tuesday when asked about the confrontation.
Phillips worked under Minter when Minter was the head coach at Cincinnati and brought Minter to UK before the BBVA Compass Bowl two years ago.
Minter did acknowledge the communication on his unit was much better in UK’s second game.
“It was so much better. One, we didn’t try to do as many things. We tried to settle down just a little bit,” Minter said. “That’s up to me to scale it back enough for the guys to understand it and make calls under fire. We didn’t do that very well the first game; we did it so much better the second game.
“Knowing we were going to play a whole lot of guys, you’re only as strong as your weakest link, so you had to make sure anybody and everybody that got out there had a chance to make simplistic calls. We’ll grow. We’ll advance.”