Four months from today, well, four months and a day, UK will kick off their season against the Hilltoppers from Western Kentucky. The game is big for several reasons. It’s Mark Stoops first game as the Kentucky Wildcats Head Coach. It’s Bobby Petrino’s first game at Western Kentucky. WKU beat UK last year in Commonwealth, so there’s certainly a revenge factor from Kentucky’s stand point.
Still though, the big question for the season, and for that game, has not been answered yet. Who will be the starting quarterback for Kentucky on that night?
The coaches are playing their cards close to the vest so far. While Neal Brown hinted that yes, Jalen Whitlow had a more productive Spring Game, the other quarterback did some nice things and it didn’t show up through no fault of their own.
To me though, the Spring Game was the writing on the wall for the other Quarterbacks. Whitlow came out, was poised, played with anticipation, and threw the ball over the first and second team defenses. Throughout the game he had a great connection with arguably Kentucky’s top receiver, AJ Legree.
But the main reason that Whitlow will be the starting quarterback on August 31st is that he adds a dimension to the field that none of the other quarterbacks can bring to the table; he can scramble. And not just scramble, but he can be a legitimate threat to take it to the house every time he rolls out of the pocket.
He’s not the only quarterback on the roster that possesses enough speed to pose a threat. Patrick Towles was known as a scrambling quarterback out of high school and has legit speed as far as quarterbacks are concerned. Still, he’s not as fast as Whitlow and isn’t as shifty. Being as big as he is, it’s hard for him to shake a defender in the hole the way that Whitlow can.
Why is this important? I mean, in Neal Brown’s system, quarterbacks aren’t generally runners. In fact, at Texas Tech, Neal never had a running quarterback.
The problem that UK faces though, is that there is simply a lack of play-makers at wide receiver right now. Outside of your starters, there is little depth and certainly nobody that a defense is going to have to spend extra time scheming against. What UK does have though is depth at tight end and depth at running back. In order for UK to be successful offensively this year, there needs to be a constant playaction threat, and teams need to spend resources to spy Whitlow to keep him in the pocket.
This serves two purposes. If the Middle Linebacker is kept in to spy Whitlow, that’s an extra defender in zone/man schemes that is not going to be able to cover tight ends or running backs in their routes. That takes pressure off of wide receivers to beat their men, and allows UK to exploit their advantages at tight end/running back.
Secondly, it keeps the pressure off the offensive line. The reason is that it forces defensive lineman to focus on keeping Whitlow contained. With standard quarterbacks who can’t run, defenses can pin their ears back and not worry about maintaining certain rushing lanes in obvious passing situations. With Whitlow though, this is negated. He’s too dangerous in the open field for that. That means ends have to rush wider, and tackles have to be careful in pushing the pocket to deep and allowing Whitlow to step up. That makes it easier for the offensive line to figure out their blocking schemes.
There’s another benefit to having Whitlow back there as well, however, and that is the addition to the playbook of designed quarterback runs. You can now put Whitlow back in Option plays, even triple option plays with a play call for a trap to the running back, a quarterback wrap, or a bubble screen. That causes an intense amount of strain on the defense at the point of attack. If you watched Colin Kaepernick play last year, you know what an offense designed around those principles can do for a team.
So there you have it, expect Whitlow to be the starter next year. I know I’ve went in to detail about how his running game will help him become the starter, but it’s important to point out he has a pretty darn good arm too. In fact, I’d say that he’s nearly as strong as Towles is, and nearly as accurate as Smith. That’s a pretty good combination.
The question after the announcement is made then will shift to the back-ups, and who will stay, who will redshirt, and who may transfer because of it. Unfortunately this is what happens in big boy football, and it’s certainly not something that any coach looks forward to. Still, I firmly believe whatever happens will be best for that player, and best for Kentucky. I have the upmost confidence that Mark Stoops and Neal Brown will handle the situation correctly.
Now, let’s go win some football games.
Go Big Blue!
Category: Ky Cat Stats