LEXINGTON – I give Mark Stoops credit for making the quarterback switch from Jalen Whitlow to Maxwell Smith for Saturday’s home opener against Miami (Ohio) at Commonwealth Stadium (noon on Fox South).
The previous coach, Joker Phillips, probably would have stuck with Whitlow a few more games, at least, just to make extra, extra sure he’s not the guy.
Though, granted, I would caution not to dish too much blame on Whitlow for the Wildcats’ deflating 35-26 season-opening loss to Western Kentucky Saturday.
Whitlow was 10 of 15 for 78 yards against the Hilltoppers. But he was erratic early when WKU was jumping on the Wildcats.
I still believe Whitlow could grow into a good passer — he’s made a handful of throws in his brief UK career that were wow throws — and clearly
he’s a good runner. But it appears that Smith is the better passer right now, and so it’s worth giving him the starting nod against the RedHawks.
The bottom line is that Kentucky needs a confidence boost quickly, and Smith’s passing against a Miami team with a poor pass defense could provide that shot in the arm, so to speak, more so than Whitlow’s running.
Smith came off the bench in the fourth quarter vs. WKU to complete 8 of 13 for 125 yards.
The RedHawks surrendered five touchdowns through the air Saturday in their 52-14 loss at Marshall.
“We just feel that Max gives us the best opportunity this week,” Stoops said diplomatically.
“(But) just because we’re naming Max, we’re not putting that loss on Jalen whatsoever. There’s a lot of people who could have done things better, starting with me. (But) he (Smith) made less mistakes, and he did some of the basic things that we’re looking for correctly and distributed the ball where we needed to. So that was the big thing in helping us move the football.”
Stoops also said earlier this week that Whitlow may see action at QB as well Saturday, and offensive coordinator Neal Brown said that Whitlow will play “in certain packages,” because he’s too talented to keep off the field completely.
“Will we look different with Jalen at quarterback than with Max at quarterback?” Brown said. “Yes, we will. But does the base of the offense change? No. Maybe what I call does. But the offense doesn’t.”
The Kentucky defense, meanwhile, could hardly be worse than it was in the Western game. The Hilltoppers ran up 487 yards on Kentucky, and were never slowed for any great length of time. WKU had 271 yards passing and 216 yards rushing.
“We didn’t play very good defense the whole game, really,” Stoops said. “We’ve just got to find some answers and get better.”
Miami, meanwhile, fell apart in the second half of the Marshall game. Those two teams were tied 14-14 at halftime.
The RedHawks may be even younger than the Wildcats. Seventy-four of Miami’s 100 players are freshmen or sophomores.
Miami has been picked to finish fifth in the seven-team, East Division of the Mid-American Conference.
The RedHawks had 239 yards of offense vs. Marshall, including just 78 on the ground. The Miami defense, meanwhile, gave up 591 yards to the Thundering Herd.
UK senior linebacker Avery Williamson picked up two huge honors this week.
On Tuesday Williamson was named to the Southeastern Conference Community Service Team for his numerous volunteer/charitable contributions to the community throughout his three years at UK.
On Wednesday, the native of Milan, Tenn., was named a candidate for the 2013 Senior CLASS Award by the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision committee. That honor recognizes achievements in four areas: community, classroom, character and competition.