When kids grow up in Alabama, as was the case with University of Kentucky quarterback Jalen Whitlow, rumor has it they’re either “Roll Tide!” or “War Eagle!” from the time they exit the womb.
The Montgomery native and former Prattville High School standout may be true blue now, but he was born into a family draped in crimson.
“I liked Alabama growing up,” he said. “I’m not going to say I didn’t like them.”
So were “about 99.9 percent” of the people he knew during high school, Whitlow said, but on Saturday he’ll be playing the role of the villains who used to try to beat his family and friends’ favorite team as No. 1 Alabama (5-0, 2-0 SEC) visits Commonwealth Stadium for the first time since 2009.
“It’s a big game,” Whitlow said. “All my friends have been calling me this week, ‘Bama this week. Bama this week.’ … It’s Alabama, you know, a dynasty, and everybody’s going to hype it up.
“It’ll be an emotional night. I just have to try to calm down and just play.”
For his part, Whitlow says he’s trying to avoid the hype. He claims he’s practicing this week as if it’s any other opponent, trying to build on last week’s strong performance against South Carolina.
That may easier said than done.
“My sister, she goes to Alabama,” he said. “She does some things with (football) recruiting at Alabama, so it’s crazy in my house. My parents have all their Alabama gear because my sister goes there, and now we’re playing Alabama this week. My brother, he likes Alabama, so it’s a crazy week.”
Asked if anyone in his family will be wearing blue on Saturday, Whitlow declared, “Oh yeah, oh yeah. They better.”
The timing seems fitting for Whitlow to be facing the defending champions. He’s coming off perhaps the best performance of his UK career last week at South Carolina, where he completed 17 of 24 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 69 yards and another score. The Wildcats fell 35-28 to the No. 13 Gamecocks, but Whitlow led an inspired comeback effort which saw UK score three fourth-quarter touchdowns.
But Alabama is a different animal. The Crimson Tide boast arguably the best defense in the country, coached by one of the finest defensive minds in the game, Nick Saban.
“They’re pretty good,” Whitlow said with a laugh as he realized the understated nature of his comment. “Every week, we try to find a weakness in the defense and exploit it, but Alabama seems to have less (than other teams).”
Since giving up 42 points to Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M on Sept. 14, the Tide has yet to surrender another touchdown in wins over Colorado State (31-6), Ole Miss (25-0) and Georgia State (45-3).
UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown called it a defense "without any weaknesses."
"One of the key things -- and I watched them a lot this summer and through their games the early part of this season -- is anything that's successful, it's only successful once," Brown said. "It's not repeated. They do a great job, not only in their game-planning, but during the game of correcting things."
Kentucky (1-4, 0-2 SEC) is in the midst of an unprecedented run against four consecutive Top 25 teams, and three of them are among the nation’s best defenses. Louisville leads the country in points allowed per game at 6.8. Florida and Alabama are tied for fourth at 12.2.