Last night in Columbia, South Carolina, Kentucky lost 35-28 to the Gamecocks. There is no such thing as a good loss, but there is such a thing as a bad one. For example, Kentucky lost 54-3 the last time they traveled to Williams-Brice Stadium. And midway through the second quarter it looked like the Cats were on their way to another beating. The defense was struggling and the offense, led by sophomore Jalen Whitlow, was going nowhere.
Then, something changed. Whitlow started to complete passes. Running lanes opened up for both him and the running backs. Kentucky’s offense found life. Whitlow finally got into a rhythm as a quarterback and confidently led his team to four touchdowns against a Top 10 team. Had Kentucky’s defense and, cough, the referees given them a chance to get the ball back, there would have likely been overtime in Columbia last night.
Early in the week there were rumblings that Kentucky was going to pick a quarterback and roll with him. The coaches were tired of the inconsistency that comes with playing two guys and so were fans. The logical choice was Whitlow, a dual-threat who has been inconsistent but could make plays with his feet when things break down. After a rocky start, we may have seen Whitlow take the job and run with it.
Whitlow had by far his best game as a passer, completing 70% of his passes for 178 yards and 2 touchdowns. He added 69 yards and another score on the ground. The staff was able to call plays that worked into Whitlow’s strengths and Kentucky was able to sustain drives. While his accuracy will limit Neal Brown’s ability to run a true “Air Raid”, the Cats can put up points if they are willing to accept Whitlow for who he is as a quarterback. He is a dynamic runner that defenses need to account for on every play. He is also average at best in terms of accuracy throwing the ball. Once UK gets into the manageable portion of the schedule, the offense could do some real damage.
It is also possible that this game was a fluke, a flash-in-the-pan strong outing from a young player with nothing to lose. I don’t expect Whitlow to have a great game against Nick Saban’s defense. But if he plays at a similar level the rest of the year, Kentucky can beat the Vanderbilt’s and Mississippi State’s of the world. If the offense and defense put it together on the same night, Kentucky could knock off Georgia. But barring a collapse in the next couple of weeks, starting Jalen Whitlow full time is the best course of action for the 2013 season.