LEXINGTON, Ky. – The University of Kentucky football team went back to work on the practice fields Tuesday as former hurricane Sandy made her impact on the Bluegrass State with cold, rainy and windy conditions forcing UK to practice indoors at the Nutter Field House. The Wildcats are preparing for their final Southeastern Conference home game of the season on Saturday against Vanderbilt at Noon ET.
Like every Tuesday, offensive coordinator Randy Sanders and defensive coordinator Rick Minter talked after practice about the team’s upcoming task. Sanders’ stint with the media centered mostly on true freshman quarterbacks Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles. Sanders said they will use practice this week to determine the quarterback rotation for Saturday.
“We will figure out exactly what the plan is as the week goes on,” Sanders said about the quarterback rotation. “It is always a hard thing (to determine).”
Towles played well in his first collegiate action against Mississippi State, going 5-for-6 for 71 yards and a touchdown, then missed two games with an injury and completed 1-of-4 passes in his return to action at Missouri. Sanders said the more practice and playing time Towles gets the better he will be able to handle the speed of game conditions.
“Once you get in the game and in that environment things happen fast if you are really not prepared,” Sanders said. “I think he was trying to get prepared and was working hard to get prepared, but his opportunities to get prepared this season have still been limited. He only had six real practices with the offense.
“It’s common among everyone (not just quarterbacks). Once you get out there and the chaos starts, which until you have played a lot of ball and really prepared, a lot of it is chaos. Once you get in chaos you revert back to your training and if your training hasn’t been enough or you haven’t done it long enough to where your training is to do things right all the time then you will revert back to what you have always done.”
Sanders said the development of Towles will be important not only for the UK offense overall, but for Whitlow as well.
“Jalen is doing about as well as we can expect him to do,” Sanders said. “We would like for him to do better, but realistically, where you would expect him to be he isn’t that far off. He needs some help from someone and if Patrick can come in and provide some help then that is a bonus for him. In hindsight, if I had something to do over again last week I would have probably put Morgan (Newton) in the game because I thought that helped Jalen against Georgia. When you start playing three of them, though, you can really break momentum some times.”
Defensively, Minter and Co. face a tough challenge in a skilled and veteran Vanderbilt offense led by senior quarterback Jordan Rodgers and senior tailback Zac Stacy. Rodgers leads the team in passing having completed nearly 60 percent of his passes for 1,458 yards and five touchdowns. Stacy, he school’s all-time leading rusher, has 683 yards on 131 carries with five touchdowns.
“They have a very good offense,” Minter said. “They do kind of whatever it takes. They put the guys in there that do what it takes to be successful at the moment, whether it is six offensive linemen, seven offensive linemen, (a) lineman in the backfield to get better at fullback, those types of things to be creative. They run the Wildcat formation a number of different ways probably seven to 10 times a game. They still have an athletic quarterback who is tough-minded and tough-bodied and can run the ball himself. They are really a good running team downhill at you. They have a well-rounded offense and it’s a handful and challenge with a senior quarterback, who you know they are giving the whole playbook in his second year. We have to play better than we did last year.”
Minter said although the UK defense has shown some improvement over the last couple of weeks they still need to stay motivated and prepared.
“Motivation comes with preparation, confidence comes from practicing hard and preparing hard,” Minter said. “When you take that field knowing full well that you are as good or better than the guy lining across from you and you hit him in the mouth before he hits you, then you have a chance to be successful. If all you are doing is looking backward instead of forward then you are not really preparing for this year’s game plan. Kids get motivated different ways, but I believe preparation is the best motivator to be successful.”