It’s no secret that the biggest question during this year’s Spring practices revolves around who will win the starting quarterback job. Right now the staff has been very cautious to say that this a four-man race in the Spring among incumbent Jalen Whitlow, Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips and 2014 recruiting gem Drew Barker. Stoops has also made a point to mention injured Maxwell Smith in the competition, though Smith will get no reps this Spring. After every practice, every scrimmage, the coaches are barraged with questions about the quarterback battle, and understandably so, with better quarterback play last season Kentucky likely wins 4-5 games instead of two.
Well this week there have been two big “events” in regards to the competition. Stoops did a recent interview where he basically said that Jalen Whitlow would be the starter if there was a game tomorrow. There was…a backlash to say the least. Then there was a scrimmage this weekend in which Kentuckians Towles and Barker both seemingly shined. And the people rejoiced. And there lies the problem.
Now, I understand that Kentuckians love their homegrown talents and I have championed both Barker and Towles myself in the past two years. And I understand that Whitlow struggled last season to say the least. If he hasn’t improved and continues to start, Kentucky won’t win more than 3 games next year. And that brings me to my point.
There is no reason to believe that Whitlow hasn’t improved. 2013 was his first in a new offense and his experience playing quarterback in general is somewhat limited. Because the passing game broke down so often, he was forced to rely on his running ability and took some hits. So he was banged up. (Admittedly, a running quarterback needs to be tough because those hits will always be there) For comparison sake Kentucky’s last great signal-caller, Andre Woodson, had a rough go his first two years on campus. As a sophomore starter Woodson threw six touchdowns and six interceptions with a 57% completion rate. Whitlow threw five scores and five picks while completing 61% of his passes. He also added 457 rushing yards and six touchdowns. So the stats are pretty comparable, even skewing in Whitlow’s favor if you factor in rushing. Not to mention that Woodson was throwing to a collection of future NFL draft picks.
Does this mean that I believe Jalen Whitlow is a better quarterback than Andre Woodson? No, of course not, he hasn’t shown that kind of ability to this point. They’re actually different styles of players, (actually Towles is the most similar player on the roster) but if Whitlow can improve his accuracy there is no reason that he can’t reach a similar level. And don’t forget that Whitlow has shown flashes of pure dual-threat brilliance. He, like every other quarterback on the roster, just hasn’t put a complete game together. After a disappointing sophomore campaign everyone assumed that Curtis Pulley would take Woodson’s job in 2006. But Woodson dedicated himself to improving and became a leader and he never looked back. So too could Whitlow, there’s no reason to count him out in advance.
But my final point is this: I don’t know about you, but I want the best player to win the job. Like every other position, I want the guy on the field to be the one who gives my Wildcats the best chance to win football games. Do I have my favorites? Absolutely, but I would much rather they cheer from the sidelines if there is a superior player that needs to see the field. And every one of these players are Kentucky Wildcats people. These are OUR boys, they should never be booed or berated by the fans. They will make mistakes and they will stumble, but as long as they keep getting up and they wear that blue and white, then you cheer. It’s that simple.