Maxwell Smith, Whitlow still vying for quarterback position



By Alex Forkner | Football Columnist

[email protected] 

When the UK offense takes the field Saturday, hoping to fill the Nashville sky with “Air Raid” sirens, the man taking the first snap of the game will be a surprise.

Head coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown agreed on not naming either sophomore Maxwell Smith or sophomore Jalen Whitlow the starter in the week leading up to the season opener against Western Kentucky University.

“We’ll go in and whoever the starter is, they’ll be given some rope,” Brown said. “I anticipate playing both quarterbacks, but obviously if one quarterback comes in and plays well, we’re not going to take somebody out if they’re playing well.”

The quarterback competition was narrowed in the last week of fall camp, as the staff logged statistics for each quarterback in multiple situations.

After more than 30 practices, Smith and Whitlow were the most productive. Sophomore Patrick Towles was eliminated from contention.

“(Towles) fought,” Stoops said. “He wanted to win the starting job, but he’s had a great attitude, and that’s what I told him. Patrick has been very good, has continued to work extremely hard. He’s got as much talent as any quarterback we have on campus, but it’s just a matter of letting him grow into the situation a little bit.”

Stoops said he and Towles have discussed the possibility of redshirting the quarterback.

Going into game week, Stoops and Brown are looking for which quarterback can produce in the new offense, and both Smith and Whitlow bring different skill sets to the table.

Despite suffering a left ankle ligament tear against the University of South Carolina, Smith passed for 975 yards and eight touchdowns in four games last season, while boasting an impressive 68.7  percent completion rate.

Smith has started seven games and played 12 in total.

“I think I get an advantage in terms of, you know, I’ve had a lot of playing experience,” Smith said. “Jalen actually started more games than me (last year) because of my injuries, but I have a lot of experience and I think it helps me.”

Whitlow played in 10 games last season, starting seven, and threw for 801 yards and three touchdowns. But Whitlow displayed an extra dimension, rushing for 206 yards and three touchdowns.

Whitlow, the star of the spring game, said his athleticism could help him adjust to the pace of the new offense. He’s also worked on becoming a more vocal leader.

“I’m not a big ‘hoorah’ guy, but I try to be a little more vocal and serious once we get on the field,” Whitlow said.

Stoops has said the decision ultimately will be his, once he gathers input from Brown and the rest of the offensive staff.

And though the two-man battle is the most publicized position battle on the team, Stoops said the competition is no different than any on the rest of the team.

“Everybody talks about it because it’s the quarterback, but it’s not different than any position. I mean anybody. If one person’s doing good then they’re the starter,” he said. “If they’re not, then the next person is in, and that’s the way it is across the board.”