Record crowd watches Blue top White in Stoops’ first spring game



By Nick Gray | @KYKernelGray

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Coach Mark Stoops’ first UK team was unveiled at the Blue/White Game in front of an estimated 50,831 fans at Commonwealth Stadium.

The Blue team won 24-23 after a failed two-point conversion by sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith followed his 47-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Demarco Robinson.

But the two storylines coming into the game were the crowd and the quarterbacks, and neither disappointed.

The crowd dwarfed the previous spring game attendance record set in 1987, when 20,325 fans watched Jerry Claiborne’s sixth team at UK.

UK head coach Mark Stoops was more than pleased by the fans.

“I was amazed,” Stoops said. “You heard these numbers for the past couple weeks, and you never are going to know who is going to show up, and it was overwhelming. It was fantastic. Our players really felt that.”

The quarterback battle, on this night, leaned towards sophomore quarterback Jalen Whitlow. Though neither Stoops nor offensive coordinator Neal Brown have stated the order of the quarterbacks on the depth chart all spring, Whitlow, statistically, produced the most.

Playing, as all the quarterbacks did, on both sides, Whitlow combined to pass for 193 yards on 17-of-28 passing, including two touchdowns. Whitlow also ran for 49 yards on seven carries, though quarterbacks were labeled as no-contact throughout the game.

“Jalen did a nice job,” Stoops said. “He has the dimension to run the football and pull it down when something is not there and create. So, he did. He did a nice job tonight.”

As a freshman, Whitlow struggled to complete passes and run the offense with poise and confidence. Whitlow expressed he’s more confident now.

“If you have confidence, you make plays. You have to carry yourself with confidence. Players carry themselves with confidence,” Whitlow said. “You will never see Peyton Manning carrying himself like a ‘regular Joe’.”

Meanwhile, Smith completed 11 of 18 passes for 108 yards and his touchdown to Robinson in an up and down day. Smith led two scoring drives but was also sacked three times and went three plays and out twice.

Sophomore quarterback Patrick Towles played in an offense in high school similar to the one implemented by Brown. But Towles had the least amount of production of the three, going 6-of-14 for 65 yards and a touchdown with an interception.

The quarterback with the best completion percentage was freshman early enrollee Reese Phillips, who completed 10-of-12 passes for 75 yards and a touchdown.

The game began with the White team with Towles at quarterback, after all three quarterbacks were lined in the “Wildcat” formation on the first play. Towles threw an interception to junior safety Ashely Lowery on the sidelines on fourth down to end the first drive.

Whitlow led the White on its second drive, finishing the drive with a 16-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver A.J. Legree. Senior tight end Tyler Robinson extended the drive on fourth-and-three with a 20-yard catch.

Towles would come out with the Blue team on offense on the next drive and lead a touchdown drive of his own. Towles’ throw to sophomore wide receiver Rashad Cunningham from a yard out tied the game at seven.

Both sides would trade field goals, as Smith moved the White offense on a 12-play, 49-yard drive that ended with a 38-yard field goal by senior kicker Joe Mansour.

Whitlow’s drive that resulted in a 31-yard field goal by freshman kicker Tanner Blain was one of three drives he led in the second quarter. His first drive in the third quarter with the Blue team resulted in a touchdown, a 16-yard catch by sophomore receiver DeMarcus Sweat.

Freshman quarterback Reese Phillips was the fourth and final quarterback to lead a scoring drive, an 11-play, 72-yard drive completed by a one-yard touchdown run by senior running back Raymond Sanders.

Smith’s touchdown pass to Robinson and the missed two-point conversion provided the final one-point margin.

Robinson led all players in receiving, catching six balls for 93 yards and a touchdown. Cunningham led the Blue team in receiving, gaining 80 yards on eight catches and a score.

Sophomore running back Dyshawn Mobley, on the Blue squad, led all rushers with 80 yards on 15 carries. Sophomore running back Josh Clemons showed no signs of knee fatigue, running for 56 yards on 10 carries.

Defensively, Stoops praised both junior defensive end Bud Dupree and junior defensive end Za’Darius Smith, who were disruptive on the Blue team defense. Dupree was credited with a sack, and Smith earned six tackles, including one for a loss.

Junior linebacker Malcolm McDuffen made eight tackles, one of which was for a loss. Senior linebacker Avery Williamson led the Blue team with seven total tackles.