Jalen Whitlow's first extended action as Kentucky's quarterback ran the gamut of emotions. From putting his team in position for a major upset with a terrific first half against South Carolina to the cold, hard reality of moving the chains against halftime adjustments made by an elite SEC defense, it was a night of thrilling highs and agonizing lows for the freshman from Alabama.
"First half, I think I played alright," said Whitlow, who completed eight of 13 passes for 71 yards and rushed for 29 yards, including his first career touchdown on an 8-yard keeper, to help the Wildcats take a 17-7 halftime lead over the No. 6 Gamecocks.
And then the other cleat dropped.
South Carolina stacked the box in the second half, allowed only 60 total yards, and refused to let UK pass midfield in the final 30 minutes of play. Throw in four second-half sacks and a pair of interceptions for the Gamecocks, who pulled away for a decisive 38-17 victory.
"Second half, we lost some focus and intensity," Whitlow said. "… It was difficult because they were coming, they were putting on pressure. I was holding on to the ball too much. Just got to stay focused."
Tough lessons learned for a talented youngster who was thrust into action when UK starter Maxwell Smith sustained a severe ankle injury on the Wildcats' second play from scrimmage. Whitlow also played in last week's game at Florida, but only saw two fourth-quarter series in a game whose outcome had long been decided.
This was much different. These were snaps that mattered, and despite the final score, he showed along the way that the future could be bright.
"He was doing well. He was. He made some plays," said UK coach Joker Phillips, who along with offensive coordinator Randy Sanders had estimated earlier in the week that Whitlow was operating with only 10 percent of the total playbook.
But youth and inexperience eventually caught up with Whitlow against the unforgiving Gamecock defense.
"The same motions and shifts that we do became really hard for him," Phillips said. "He missed a few of them. Some of the pressure that he got was because he didn't send a motion or didn't send shifts.
"We always say a freshman, he's going to make some plays, but he's going to make some mistakes also."
Through the ups and downs, Phillips said what he liked most about Whitlow's performance was he embraced the opportunity.
"He looked like he had been there," Phillips said. "Again, he didn't have the bright eyes that you see in some guys. Last year when we said, Max, you might be up, Max was in his locker, looking at the playbook. You know, this guy just went out there and played.
"We've got to continue to get him better so he can have even more of the playbook the next time he's able to play."
Phillips said X-rays on Smith's injured ankle came back negative, but the staff will not know more about his status moving forward until swelling subsides. Smith had missed last week's game with a strained shoulder joint and a sore knee.
With the sophomore quarterback's injuries mounting, Phillips was asked if the staff might consider taking the redshirt off another talented freshman, 2011 Kentucky "Mr. Football" Patrick Towles.
"We won't do that unless Max is out for a while," he said. "Also, we won't do it unless we're going to play him. At this point in time, there is no sense in taking it off of him if he's not going to play a significant amount."
Highs & Whitlows
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