UK head coach Mark Stoops said Monday that Jalen Whitlow should be healthy enough to reclaim the starter's job for Saturday night's Homecoming game against Alabama State, but his backup might be the bigger question.
Max Smith started Thursday's game at Mississippi State, but was unable to throw the ball downfield consistently due to lingering issues with his right shoulder and throwing arm. He finished the game 18 of 34 for only 160 yards. Fifty-one of those yards came on one play, a screen pass that receiver Ryan Timmons turned into a long scoring play.
Whitlow entered the MSU game in the third quarter, but was coming off a severe ankle sprain from an Oct. 12 loss to Alabama and clearly was not at full strength. Now he's dealing with a sore AC joint in his shoulder. Stoops says Whitlow "should be fine," but acknowledged that the staff is working on contingency plans.
Freshman Reese Phillips may be in line for more practice reps this week in the event Whitlow's injury situation takes a turn for the worse. UK also has sophomore Patrick Towles available, but staff has said in the past that it would like to redshirt the former four-star signee and Kentucky "Mr. Football" out of Ft. Thomas Highlands.
Asked if Phillips is currently the second or third option at this time, Stoops said: "I don't know. We'll work on it this week. He's definitely going to be an option."
Stoops said he likes how Phillips has handled himself in practice this spring and fall. He referred to the 6-foot-2, 219-pound Tennessee native as a good game manager. "He takes care of the ball… I think he does a nice job of protecting the football, and I think he does a nice job with his decision-making."
The ongoing quarterback drama has clearly frustrated the first-year UK boss.
"We wait for our other quarterbacks to take it and run," he said. "I think Jalen has been there. I think Jalen is the guy that has been very close to leading us, and then we get an injury and set us back, and that can't happen. We've just got to stay healthy. We've got to be stronger, we have got to protect him better, and if he does go down, we've got to be better prepared for somebody else to lead us."
Kentucky currently ranks 13th in scoring (20.6 ppg) and total offense (348.4 ypg) in the SEC. The Cats have an SEC-low 20 trips into the opponent's red zone this season and have scored touchdowns on only 10 of those.