As the Western Kentucky football team’s defense begins to prepare for Kentucky more and more each day, the picture of what type of offense it’ll face begins to become clearer.
First-year Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said this week that he’ll play both Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow at quarterback when the Wildcats meet WKU on Aug. 31 at LP Field in Nashville. That piece of information allows the Hilltoppers a little bit more of an opportunity to plan what’s coming their way, but there are still challenges.
“It’s tough,” WKU defensive coordinator Nick Holt said after Thursday’s practice. “We don’t know what we’re going to get. We try to prepare for both and one might be a better runner or better thrower, and one might be better at doing this and that, but again, it’s really hard to get a beat on it because we don’t know what really, for 100 percent, what we’re going to get.
“We’ve watched, obviously, some film of Kentucky last year and seen the quarterbacks that got to play last year that are back. We’ll just see how that goes.”
Smith, a redshirt sophomore, played in eight games last season, including UK’s 32-31overtime loss to Western Kentucky in Lexington. From Granada Hills, Calif., he threw for 332 yards and two scorers on 37 of 60 passing against the Tops last year. He also threw four interceptions in that game.
Whitlow played in 10 of 12 games for Kentucky in 2012, missing both the WKU and Louisville games. Listed as a sophomore from Prattville, Ala., he threw for 801 yards and rushed for another 206 as a true freshman.
“We’ve talked about that they they’re going to play both of them, but it doesn’t change our game plan,” junior safety Jonathan Dowling said. “We just know that one likes to throw more, one likes to run more.
“All we got to do is watch Texas Tech film, because that’s where their (offensive coordinator) came from last year. I feel like just watching Texas Tech film will let us know a little bit about them, what they plan to do.”
Neal Brown is Kentucky’s first-year offensive coordinator. A former all-state wide receiver at Boyle County High School in the late ‘90s, Brown has led high-octane offensive attacks at Troy and Texas Tech before arriving in Lexington.
His 2009 Troy team put up 40 points against an eventual winless WKU squad at Houchens-Smith Stadium. Nicknamed the “Air Raid,” Brown’s scheme calls for a lot of passing in a quick-tempo format.
“That’s a big concern, regardless of our secondary and how many games they’ve played,” Holt said. “This offense and the philosophy of this offense that we’re playing against is high-tempo and getting up on the line and throwing the ball all over the place. A lot of screens I imagine and spreading us out and going really fast. In the first game when there’s new staffs on both sides of the ball, that’s going to be taxing. It’s challenging, and that’s what makes this game so fun.”
Dowling had three interceptions against UK last season and he said he and his defensive mates are already well-engulfed into studying what the Wildcats may bring to the table.
But as for the little bit of success WKU had last year before a furious Kentucky rally sent the game to overtime, he said that outcome has no bearing.
“Last year was last year,” he said. “You got to take a new attitude toward every game. We’re just preparing every day, just to have our best outing to date.”
Mock game tonight
The Hilltoppers will wrap up fall camp tonight when it goes through a closed mock game at 6 p.m. at Houchens-Smith Stadium.
Holt said the entire day will focus on what’s expected of the team the day of the game as the Tops go through everything from a team meal to meetings to a pregame walk-through before hitting the field for about two hours.
“We want to be sharp with our substitutions, we want to have really good, sharp kicking game substitutions, we don’t want to have 12 guys on the field or 10 guys on the field. I want to be really sharp,” he said. “I’m sure we’re not going to be out there too long. We want to be sharp and we want to be efficient and we want to stay healthy.”