Kentucky continued to prep a pair of true freshman quarterbacks on Wednesday for this weekend's SEC matchup with Mississippi State.
"Physically, they both looked good," UK head coach Joker Phillips said of Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles. "They both can throw the ball. They both had bright eyes today, energized."
The opportunity to play always seems to bring out the best in players during practice, Phillips said, although he wishes he would see the same approach from players regardless of their position on the depth chart.
"I keep telling you guys, people treat playing differently," Phillips said. "I hate to say that. You'd like to see a guy that is a backup being there every day… Monday night, Jalen's in the dang film room. Monday night at 9 o'clock. Then once Towles finds out, he's here last night.
"That's the thing, you like it, but you've got to do that when you're the backup. Be prepared. But those guys are excited about having an opportunity, and we'll put them out there and see how they do."
Whitlow saw his first extended action in last week's 38-17 loss to South Carolina after Maxwell Smith suffered a severe ankle injury on the Wildcats' second play from scrimmage. Including mop-up duty at the end of the Florida game, the Alabama native has completed 13 of 29 passes for 126 yards and two interceptions the last two weeks. He has also rushed for 58 yards and a touchdown.
Towles, meanwhile, will be getting the first snaps of his UK career Saturday. The reigning Kentucky "Mr. Football" from Fort Thomas Highlands passed for 3,820 yards, 42 touchdowns and only one interception as a senior in high school.
The UK staff hopes to avoid mentally overloading the rookies by utilizing a smaller offensive package and tailoring the play calls for each player's individual style.
"We ask them what do they like," Phillips said. "You have to. You have to have communication between the coaches and the players – what do you like and what do you dislike?
"The quarterback has to get in the huddle and sell. He has to be in the huddle and be able to sell – this is gonna work, and here's the reason why."
Nobody knows that better than former UK quarterback Andre Woodson, now a graduate assistant with the Wildcats. He's been able to pass along his unique experience to the freshmen.
"They come to me with a lot of questions," Woodson said. "They do a great job of trying to communicate and ask me what I would be reading if I was them. The great thing about both of those guys is they do a great job of trying to communicate with the other guys on the field. Most of the time, you see freshmen are really quiet. They won't do a good job of trying to take over the offense. They're timid to jump in there and take over leadership. But both of these guys have done a wonderful job of trying to be vocal and show leadership skills."
Woodson has his own experience with getting baptized by fire in the SEC. As a redshirt freshman in 2004, he had to enter a game at Auburn unexpectedly when starter Shane Boyd suffered an injury.
Asked what the best advice he could pass along to the young quarterbacks, Woodson said: "It's one thing to prepare; it's another to actually go out and compete against these guys in the SEC," adding that spending as much time in the film room as possible – a habit he himself didn't develop until late in his UK career – will help them the most.
Mississippi State (4-0, 1-0 SEC) is expected to be a challenging task for Whitlow and Towles. The No. 19 Bulldogs enter the game tied with Alabama and Tennessee for the SEC lead in interceptions at nine.
"You can't throw down the middle late," Phillips said. "Those guys have nine interceptions and lead the nation in turnover margin, and a lot of that has to do with their secondary."
Crash course continues for young QBs
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