With less than a week until the media will descend upon Commonwealth Stadium to fill your eyes and ears with in-depth stories about the 2014 Kentucky Wildcats, I must take advantage of this last opportunity to indoctrinate you with my beliefs on who should fill the coveted role of starting Quarterback in the first year of Neal Brown’s Air Raid offense. I have avoided conversing about the matter with my family, friends, and (most importantly) acquaintances thus far; small talks turn into long talks and casual arguments don’t remain casual. Besides, in all likelihood the winner of the three way competition between Pat Towles, Max Smith, and Jalen Whitlow will not be announced until well after the conclusion of preseason camp.
Once practice begins next week, the QB competition will ascend to it’s peak. After learning the offense during the Spring, all three have had the opportunity to perfect their game during the summer while improving their bodies with Coach Korem. The coaches have left the race wide open thus far, but the general consensus by the public has the race narrowed down to two: Jalen Whitlow and Max Smith. Once football chatter began with Mark Stoops’ hire, Max Smith seemed to be the hands-down favorite to inherit the offense, until Jalen Whitlow showed a record Spring crowd the best performance of the night. While no one knows who has made the biggest jump over the last three months other than the coaching staff, there are still plenty of factors to consider for each QB. After having plenty of time to mull it over myself, here are the 5 biggest reasons Jalen should get the job.
1. An Optimum Air Raid Athlete. Jalen’s superior athleticism might be the only universally accepted fact in this QB competition. Neither Max nor Pat are schmucks, but they can’t move it like
Jagger Jalen. Thinking comparatively is too simple-minded though. If you look at college football nationwide, it is undeniable how important mobility at the Quarterback position has become. The principle is simple,:the best teams have the best Quarterbacks that can do the most good things. Louisville couldn’t be in this unfamiliar territory without the heroics of Teddy Bridgewater. Texas A&M couldn’t have taken the SEC transition in stride without Johnny Football’s playmaking prowess. Gene Chizik couldn’t keep his job after Cam Newton essentially won a BCS Championship by himself. Not only do athletic QB’s provide a physical challenge in containing the pass rush, but it has pioneered a new style of play: the read option. You can commonly call it the “mesh” play, where the QB in the shotgun position exaggerates a handoff to the running back next to him, deciding whether to keep the ball or run based on a defensive end’s actions. By successfully adding this to ANY team’s playbook it makes a difference, but for Kentucky it could determine if Mark Stoops’ first season was a good one, or just good enough. With a depleted WR group and a relatively deep running back core, from a personnel standpoint it makes the most sense. Inserting Jalen Whitlow’s running ability into Neal Brown’s offense doesn’t guarantee that the Cats will be able to run against elite SEC defenses, but it WILL keep them honest.
2. How good is a pocket passer without a pocket? The only position that produces enough talent to compete against Punter U is the pocket passing Quarterback. The best Kentucky teams in recent memory were at their best when Couch, Woodson, or Lorenzen were sitting back slingin’ in the pocket. Max Smith comes from the same mold, but he doesn’t have the luxury that those other guys had: an offensive line. This year’s unit shouldn’t be bad, but when not one but TWO Olineman are drafted from a team that saw EVERY QB suffer injury, you have to wonder if they’re sitting ducks. Why not use a fast duck? Jalen’s game encompasses traditional side-to-side elusiveness, but more importantly he proved to the CWS audience at the Spring Game that he excels when moving swiftly around the pocket while targetting receivers. Defenses aren’t going to bring the blitz as often when they have to worry about a QB getting away, giving Neal Brown more play calling options.
3. Someone’s gotta go. It hasn’t been brought up much because nobody wants to be the party pooper, but I am about to poop all over the happy parade when I say that one of these QBs will not be ending his career at UK. I’d like to have them all stay and play but the harsh reality is that QBs transfer ALL THE TIME, and it’s not just the Average Joe’s. Only six of Rival’s Top 20 QBs from the Class of 2010 (would be Seniors that are my age) haven’t transferred from their original school. With Drew Barker arriving on campus in 2014, the trend will inevitably extend at Kentucky. These guys are playing to stay, and Jalen Whitlow isn’t going to sit by and let someone steal his starting spot after going his entire life without a starting spot until the South Carolina game. This factor makes the competition more fierce, and I give the edge to the best “gamer”, Jalen Whitlow.
4. A Spring Game PTPer. The Spring Game is the go-to reason for most ‘experts’ and idiots alike (or the same) to proclaim Jalen as ‘their guy’, with their reasons holding merit; when the other QBs couldn’t find their rhythm on the field, Jalen was smooth, throwing for 2 TDs and racking up nearly 250 yards of offense. That sounds phenomenal but if you ‘really watched’ the game, you’d know that the QBs were faced with the toughest task of the night. It is difficult to have a healthy QB/WR relationship when rotating between teams, especially in an offense designed to run as many plays as possible. Jalen stayed on page with his WRs and made plays when the opportunity was given. Throughout time the best-of-the-best prove themselves when faced with adversity. Jalen proved to the coaching staff that he can not only handle adversity, but excel when thrown a curveball. Coach Stoops needs a gamer at QB just as badly as Coach Cal needs one at PG. If the football staff can find the genius to give adversity with this Spring’s defense, then I’m certain they will be giving many a Quarterbacks hell in the future.
5. Because ‘I told you so’. There was a solid 5 week span between National Signing Day and Spring Practice when a lot of buzz started being spread around campus. After hearing a few things about who was playing well and working hard during off-season workouts, I knew Jalen was going to finish his Spring like a bat out of hell. Rashawn Franklin wouldn’t budge when I told him the Whit-Throw is the future, and now he is on #TeamJalen. I love it when I’m right (like I will be in a few short weeks).
To sum it up bluntly, an offense that will be hungry for playmakers needs one at Quarterback. With limited options at the WR position, an offense centered around Jalen Whitlow gives Neal Brown more play calling options, forcing opponents to prepare more than they would for a Pat or Max. Jalen has yet to hold the spotlight, but this could be the year he glows beneath it.
Think I’m wrong? Show me what ya got @RoushKSR