Quarterback picture remains clouded

Jalen Whitlow.

Kentucky hopes to have starting quarterback Maxwell Smith back on the field Saturday when the Wildcats play host to No. 6 South Carolina, but freshman Jalen Whitlow is getting more reps just in case he gets the call.

Kentucky hopes to have starting quarterback Maxwell Smith back on the field Saturday when the Wildcats play host to No. 6 South Carolina.

But Joker Phillips also thought he'd have his starter available for last weekend's game at Florida, and when Smith had to be scratched with an aching shoulder just prior to kickoff at The Swamp, UK was in a hopeless situation against the Gators.

What if the same scenario arises this week against the Gamecocks? Would the Cats call on senior Morgan Newton again coming off a 7-for-21, three-interception performance against Florida or would they bring on freshman Jalen Whitlow, who played two series in the fourth quarter of the 38-0 loss to Florida?

"We've been prepping Jalen to be our No. 2 since the Louisville game," Phillips said during his weekly Monday press luncheon. "We worked Morgan to be the No. 2 going up to the Louisville game, but after the Louisville game we started prepping Jalen to be our No. 2. When Max went down, we just felt like (Whitlow) wasn't ready, wasn't quite ready to go in in that type of environment.

"I've been down there (at The Swamp) when we put a freshman quarterback in there, and it's pretty tough. And we just felt like we wanted to start Morgan. And we did. Didn't work out. Didn't play as well as we would have liked. But we still think that that was the right decision."

Asked if the game had been in Lexington instead of Gainesville – long hailed as one of the toughest places to play in college football – Phillips said: "Who knows? Again, it's not just the environment. It's the team that you're playing against also. It's a really good football team defensively. So who knows?"

Whitlow completed just one of six passes for 12 yards against the Gators, but the athletic freshman from Alabama figures to give UK more of a running threat than the Cats get with Newton. Kentucky could show elements of the "Wildcat" offense it used to defeated Tennessee in last year's season finale with converted wide receiver Matt Roark at quarterback.

But that's far from the ideal situation facing South Carolina, one of the nation's top-rated defenses.

Did UK learn this past weekend just how important Smith is to its hopes of competing in the SEC this season? Some suggested Peyton Manning should have received MVP votes in the NFL last season despite missing the whole season with a neck injury.

"We saw some of that with Max," Phillips said, "but we expect the next guy to go in and get it done. We just didn't. "Max is very valuable. Anytime you lose your starting quarterback, he's your starting quarterback for a reason… He's our starter, and you lose your starter, you do lose a valuable person in your offense."

Phillips said the staff never considered taking the redshirt off highly-touted signee Patrick Towles. "You know, I'm comfortable with where we're at because I think we'll get Max back.

"We really think that Pat Towles will be a really good quarterback in time, and we just think that this is the best thing for him and for our program at this point."

Smith is considered "day to day." He re-aggravated an AC joint injury that he sustained last season after taking a hard hit to his shoulder in the fourth quarter of UK's 32-31 overtime loss to Western Kentucky. The sophomore from California is averaging 322 yards passing per game and has thrown eight touchdown passes on the season.

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