Losing Patrick Towles after Maxwell Smith went down was probably the worst thing that could happen for offensive coordinator Randy Sanders’ playcalling. Towles, like Smith, is more of a traditional, pass-first quarterback who can deliver the ball pretty well on intermediate to deep routes. If you can’t throw that ball on a consistent basis, it limits what Sanders feels comfortable calling and ultimately limits the offensive production.
Enter Jalen Whitlow. Whitlow, not a great deep ball thrower, but a pretty solid athlete, was the only completely healthy quarterback on Kentucky’s roster. After laying an egg against Arkansas, Whitlow, combined with a little Morgan Newton, played well enough against Georgia to bring Kentucky within a touchdown of winning. Most thought the momentum would carry over when the Wildcats traveled to face the previously defeated-in-conference-play, Missouri Tigers, and for the most part it did.
Whitlow got the call to start the game, and, despite a fumble by Jonathan George on the on opening drive, had the offense looking as good as it has post-Smith. Despite such a good start, Sanders pulled Whitlow for Towles in the third series. Kentucky’s offense proceeded to go three-and-out, and never recovered after that.
“If I had to do it over again, maybe I wouldn’t have done that,” Sanders said when asked if he thought pulling Whitlow disrupted Kentucky’s offensive rhythm.
Is Sanders’ itch to open up his playbook with a traditional quarterback so great that it supersedes Kentucky winning a football game? Looking at today’s game the answer to that question is a resounding “yes.”
Before the Wildcats suffered an ungodly amount of injuries at quarterback, the original quarterback depth chart listed Towles behind Whitlow for the third spot, something Joker Phillips stressed was no fluke; Whitlow simply was the better quarterback. Whitlow outplayed the highly-touted Towles in practice and today we might have seen it first-hand in a game.
Plain and simple, Sanders jumped the gun on pulling Whitlow out of this game. At the post-game press conference, Whitlow would not throw his offensive coordinator under the bus like Sanders has done to the young freshman before, but he did express that the switch took him out of rhythm.
“The quarterback rotation isn’t a huge deal, but it does mess up rhythm,” Whitlow replied when asked how did he feel about being yanked for Towles when everything was going well.
Did Sanders do it for his own selfish reasons? It sure looked like it. And now, if there wasn’t going to be a regime change before today’s game, it looks more likely than ever now. This mistake looks like the one that sealed it.