LEXINGTON, Ky. – University of Kentucky football head coach Joker Phillips and the UK football team have completed their weekly on-field practice schedule leading up to the showdown with top-20 ranked Mississippi State on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. Kickoff is set for 12:21 p.m. ET and can be seen on the SEC Network.
This week’s practice has been critical offensively for Kentucky as the Wildcats continue to develop true freshman quarterbacks Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles into the offense. Phillips has seemed pleased all week about the progression of both players, saying both would play Saturday. Phillips said that Whitlow, who came off the bench last week to fill in for the injured Maxwell Smith, will get the first snaps of the game.
“Time to go, we are going to throw them out there and see what they can do,” Phillips said. “Jalen will run out there first but it is really not a starter. It’s Whitlow or Towles. Jalen will run out there first but it is not really that he is starting. I guess you guys would deem it as a starter, but it is more a slash.”
Phillips said coming off the field Thursday after practice he asked Towles if he was ready for Saturday. Phillips said the native of Ft. Thomas, Ky., told him he wanted the game to be in two hours.
“You like that,” Phillips said. “I don’t want them to try to hide behind anything because you are going to be nervous, I don’t care how you spin it. You are going to be nervous the first time you run out on the field. But, he (Towles) is a confident guy and has a lot of confidence in his ability. We are going to throw him out there and see what happens.”
It is no secret that Kentucky has been bit by the injury bug as of late with the injuries to Smith, safety Dakotah Tyler, starting tailback CoShik Williams and several others. But that hasn’t hurt the team’s attitude, according to Phillips, who said Thursday that practices this week and all season have been energized.
“I think the attitude has been great, we have never had, since I’ve been here, to prod them and get them going,” Phillips said. “Everyone has always been upbeat and they came out here with a lot of juice in practice. The thing we have to do is carry it from the practice fields to the game field.”
One of the aces in the hole for Phillips and Kentucky is offensive coordinator Randy Sanders, who has dealt with having to fill a starting quarterback position with a true freshman before. Phillips said Thursday that Sanders’ ability to relate to the players and the trust they players have in him is a huge part of the collective success.
“Randy has an ability to communicate with those guys and those guys really like how he interacts with them on and off the field,” Phillips said. “He is able to spend a lot of time with them in the meeting rooms. He gets more meeting time than most coaches because during special teams (meetings) he is in meetings (with the quarterbacks) and during special teams walkthrough he is in meetings (with the quarterbacks). They get a lot more meeting time than most. They get a little bit closer to him and it’s only four guys in there so he is able to get closer to them. They trust him and he has done a really good job of developing a lot of different quarterbacks. Look at Matt Roark, he got him ready in three days. That was one of the more nervous weeks that we have probably had around here with a guy that had never taken a snap from center. He does a really good job of developing quarterbacks and has a lot of experience.”
Phillips said another helpful piece for the young quarterbacks is the support staff around the offense in senior center Matt Smith, senior guard Larry Warford and several veteran wide receivers. Phillips said the relationship between the quarterbacks and the wide receivers is especially critical.
“Definitely helps when you got those guys,” Phillips said about UK’s leadership offensively when transitioning young quarterbacks. “I told the wide receivers Tuesday that it is their job to make the quarterback comfortable and feel better about what they are doing. If I was those guys I would get with them and watch tape with them and I think some of them have done it. Those freshman quarterbacks have definitely been over here a lot more.”
On the injury front, Phillips said that linebacker Miles Simpson practiced Thursday and will be reevaluated Friday to determine his status although Phillips expects him to be with the ones. Redshirt linebacker Josh Forrest is questionable along with backup Kory Brown. Phillips said sophomore Ashely Lowery practiced more at the linebacker/safety position this week because of Martavius Neloms getting snaps at safety.
Good news was that junior defensive lineman Mister Cobble had a good week at practice and will start on Saturday, according to Phillips. The head coach also said that team doctors said Maxwell Smith’s surgery went well. Phillips said no timetable was made on his return.
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