In the midst of what has turned into his outcast from the Bluegrass, Joker Phillips left one fleeting calling card in Commonwealth Stadium’s spotty shadows Saturday night.
There the Cats found the reminiscence of a former figure gracing the field.
An injury to sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith moments into the Cats’ first possession transferred the spotlight to true freshman Jalen Whitlow.
Whitlow was Phillips’ next “Randall Cobb type athlete,” as he said during his February 1 National Signing Day press conference.
“It’s hard to compare to be with Randall Cobb, but that’s what Randall was when we got him, we think he’s the type of player,” Phillips said.
Albeit his first game, like Cobb, Whitlow wasn’t considered a world-beater coming out of high school.
For the 6-foot-3, 200-pound athlete, choices were limited among the high profile programs. It was the lure of UK’s SEC affiliation or playing for former Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn at Arkansas State and try to mold into the next Cam Newton.
Prior to his departure for the University of Southern California, Whitlow committed to Tee Martin and the Cats without ever having set foot on the campus.
Entering the season, the glitz and glamour of Kentucky-bred Patrick Towles made Whitlow an afterthought.
Fans preemptively made plans for him to become a wide receiver — nothing more than a future target for Towles.
Since the time of Towles’ redshirting, Whitlow’s name escalated.
The Wildcat formation was supposed to be his only reason for seeing the field, according to the coaching staff, but senior quarterback Morgan Newton’s lack of success against Florida last week made Whitlow the only option.
Saturday, against one of the nation’s top defense, Whitlow again became the lone option — a giant step after Phillips’ midweek lukewarm praise saying he wasn’t “god-awful” in practice.
Throughout his 2008 freshman season, Randall Cobb was given opportunities to progress. Not Whitlow. Not now.
Circumstances around his playing time made a mere 10-percent of the playbook available, according to offensive coordinator Randy Sanders.
His presence in the game’s first half brought an audible roar to Commonwealth, despite the lacking attendance.
“He didn’t have the bright eyes that you see in some guys,” Phillips said. “This guy just went out there and played.”
He dodged, ducked, dipped, dived and dodged some more, and he wasn’t even playing dodgeball.
“We ran some plays I’ve never seen before, and the crazy thing was, he was able to scramble and make some plays on a few of them,” Sanders said.
Probably his highlight, was a touchdown run in the second quarter in which Whitlow faked a pass causing a Gamecock to take flight for him to go underneath and in for the score.
Just as Whitlow displayed in high school, Cobb’s first start featured the current pro passing, catching and receiving.
His senior season in Prattville, Ala. culminated in 39-63 passing for 466 yards, 644 yards rushing, 165 yards receiving and 21 total touchdowns.
The idea of a 6-foot-8 defensive end running him down from behind is unimaginable in high school, Whitlow said.
Against those monsters of the SEC he faced Saturday, Whitlow completed 12 of his 23 attempted passes for 114 yards — highs dating back to his senior season — along with a touchdown run.
Given what he showed against such a formidable defense, and the amount of time he had to produce, Phillips should expand on creating UK’s next personification of excitement.
“We may have to add a little more in for him because he can make plays with his feet,” Phillips said.
Still yet, Whitlow’s emergence from the shadows gives him the chance to create his own legacy with an improved arm that left Cobb shifting his excitement to other areas.