By Alex Forkner
If there is one thing the UK football faithful are familiar with, it’s headaches.
This year especially has had fans running for the medicine cabinet, looking for anything to take the edge off another bitter loss.
When Western Kentucky snookered their way to an overtime victory, UK fans were surely massaging their temples. After South Carolina erased a halftime deficit and buried the Cats in the second half, fans must have been reclining on the sofa with wet washcloths applied to their foreheads.
And last week’s 49-7 fiasco in Fayetteville? Well, that was really more of a lobotomy than a headache.
But in the middle of UK’s valiant upset bid against 11th ranked Georgia, fans discovered a whole new cause of headaches: a headache.
Jalen Whitlow, who started the game at quarterback, sat glumly on the bench for most of the third quarter and the early part of the fourth with a towel draped over his head. The reason?
Whitlow, who said he’s dealt with migraine headaches since he was a little boy, was relegated to the bench with blurry vision so severe that he couldn’t see much out of his right eye. The pain came creeping in around halftime, rendering the freshman useless.
Whitlow’s migraine probably spurred countless other migraines throughout the Bluegrass, as the offense sputtered its way to only 3 points and 3 punts with Whitlow out of the game.
Morgan Newton (who has inspired his share of headaches in UK fans) managed to throw and rush for touchdowns in the first half, but the offense stagnated under his command while Whitlow sat impaired on the sideline.
Just when Georgia went up 29-17 in the final period and the brain aneurysm that is this Kentucky football season seemed ripe to rupture, Whitlow returned to the field with roughly 7 minutes left in the game for a comeback attempt.
The pained passer scrambled to avoid a sack. He lobbed a perfect pass into the outstretched arms of senior wideout La’Rod King, all the way down to the 14-yard-line. He stood poised in the pocket, firing another dart to King. Once junior running back Raymond Sanders had finished off the 75-yard drive with a touchdown, Whitlow had brought his team within a score of the heavily favored Bulldogs.
But victory escaped the Cats, as UK’s hook and ladder attempt on their final offensive play was foiled by the Bulldog defense. This game, an oh-so-close affair that had UK looking its best all season, would go down as just another headache in a season of them.
Or is it?
Consider the fact that Whitlow overcame his migraine to lead his team within a score of arguably the biggest victory of the Joker Phillips era. And Whitlow is just one of the youthful cogs in the machine that still needs a lot of breaking in. One of the youngest defenses in the country held Georgia’s rushing attack to under 100 yards for the first time this season, as well as allowing the Bulldog’s second fewest points scored.
Did anyone expect a competitive game out of this Kentucky team — the same Kentucky team that was eviscerated by an enigmatic Arkansas team?
Phillips was adamant that his team hasn’t and won’t quit this season.
“We know we’ve got guys that are good players, guys with a good attitude, guys that have good character, guys that are willing to come out here and compete every day.”
Maybe this game isn’t just another part of a trend, but a turning point. Maybe this is where the teams finds a treatment for those headaches they’ve caused the fans, and where the fans are able to cope with the pains of losing by knowing that change and progress is possible.
Or maybe I’m wrong. All this thinking is giving me a headache.