October 18, 2012

Whitlow aims for consistency in practice, on Saturdays

It might have looked like Jalen Whitlow's career got off to a running start against South Carolina, but things have quickly caught up to him since then.

After sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith was injured against the Gamecocks, Whitlow led the Wildcats to a 17-7 halftime lead. In the 10 quarters since then, UK has been outscored 107-21.

"It seems like we're farther away from executing correctly last week than we were two weeks ago," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "We're trying to figure out why that is."

There have been some defensive adjustments that have slowed the freshman down since his debut. While the Gamecocks spent a week preparing to face a traditional passing quarterback, Whitlow's scrambling ability threw South Carolina off kilter early. In the weeks following, UK coach Joker Phillips said, opponents have rushed linebackers up the middle to clog running lanes for the quarterback and focused on containing Whitlow.

"They're coming, so you have to have that clock in your head," Whitlow said. "Throw it away, or if you see an opening, you have to take off running. You have to be smart."

Whitlow has been up and down in practice in that time, Phillips said. That's understandable for a freshman, but his pattern has been a bit unusual. He's followed up poor weeks in practice with a strong game showing, like against South Carolina. Other times, the offense has looked crisp during the week before falling apart on Saturday.

"It's hard," Phillips said. "You can't blame a guy that's been thrown in to the situation he's been thrown in."

Whitlow believes he's made significant strides since the start of the season. While Sanders said earlier this season that Whitlow was only comfortable with 10 percent of the playbook, the freshman said his biggest improvement has been his knowledge of the offense.

Last year, Smith eventually caught on. It took him time after recovering from a handful of ugly performances earlier in the season, but he was able to take a step forward with the offense late in the season.

That appeared to have carried over to this season, when Smith was among the national leaders in passing through three games. Then he was hurt, and the process started all over again with Whitlow.

"Hopefully," Phillips said, "this is that week that we see it in the game with Jalen."

Sanders to wear No. 26 on Saturday
Junior tailback Raymond Sanders will wear No. 26 on Saturday instead of No. 4 to honor senior tailback CoShik Williams, who is out for the season with a hip injury. Sanders will only change jersey numbers for one game, and no other player will wear No. 26 the rest of the season.

"I think it's only fair to CoShik," Phillips said. "I think this is the best way to honor him, with his buddy wearing it, but after this nobody else will wear it for the rest of the year."

Williams arrived at UK as a walk-on before the 2008 season but worked his way up the depth chart. He eventually earned a scholarship and led the Wildcats with 486 rushing yards in 2011. He opened the 2012 season as a starter, but played in just two games before being lost for the season. He finished the year with 14 carries for 66 yards. He has 738 career rushing yards with seven rushing touchdowns.

Sanders leads UK with 58 carries for 324 yards and two touchdowns this season.

Injury Update
Senior safety Mikie Benton will not play Saturday with an ankle injury. He has not practiced all week. Senior defensive back Martavius Neloms was limited in practice on Thursday and is doubtful for this weekend.

Sophomore safety Ashely Lowery, who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms, and Cartier Rice, who suffered a hip flexor against Arkansas, are both expected to play on Saturday. Freshman cornerback Fred Tiller suffered a shin bruise against the Razorbacks but practiced all week and is expected to play.

Sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith is no longer on crutches and not wearing a boot, but still has a brace on his injured ankle. He was not at practice and will not be able to return for several more weeks. Freshman quarterback Patrick Towles was at practice on Thursday, but did not participate and will not play Saturday. He sent signals in from the sidelines.

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