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August 20, 2013

Smith, Whitlow are QB finalists, both will play

The race to be Kentucky's starting quarterback is down to two.

Publicly, at least, it may stay there.

Sophomores Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow are the two finalists, UK coach Mark Stoops said after a closed scrimmage on Tuesday. And the Wildcats may or may not name one of them the starter before next Saturday's season opener against Western Kentucky in Nashville.

"Not worried about doing that right now," Stoops said.

Stoops said he's certain that both Smith and Whitlow will play against the Hilltoppers next week.

Both Smith and Whitlow have seven career starts.

Smith, a 6-foot-4, 218-pound redshirt sophomore from Granada Hills, Calif., has completed 187 of 303 passes in 12 career games, passing for 1,794 yards with 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Whitlow, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound sophomore from Prattville, Ala., started seven games last season and played 10 after Smith - the starter at the beginning of the season - went down with a knee injury. Whitlow completed 87 of 161 passes for 801 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions and ran 68 times for 206 yards and three scores.

Both players have had their moments in camp, including in Saturday's scrimmage at Commonwealth Stadium in which Stoops said the offense got the better of the defense.

"They did well," Stoops. "They did good. They had some ups and downs. It wasn't just a sieve like it was last spring at times. They had some good drives and some bad drives."

The decision to narrow to two candidates takes former four-star recruit Patrick Towles out of the mix to start.

"He's got as much talent as any quarterback we have on campus, but it's just a matter of letting him grow into the situation a little bit," Stoops said. "And he's open to the idea, if the opportunity presents itself, to redshirt. And if we go through the year and neither one of the quarterbacks are getting it done, then we may open it back up. But he's going to prepare to be the third quarterback with the opportunity to redshirt if it presents itself."

Quarterbacks have not been available to reporters since Media Day on Aug. 5. At that time, Towles - who completed 19 of 40 passes for 233 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions in five games last season - said he planned to remain at UK even if he didn't win the starting job.

"I think if times get tough, you just got to dig in a little deeper and keep on huffin'," Towles said then. "If I don't get the starting job, I'm not going to go anywhere. I just got to keep working hard and prove that I am (worthy of starting)."

Stoops lauded Towles for his handling of the news that Smith and Whitlow were the top two contenders.

"It wasn't an easy conversation, because I know how much he cares and how much he put into it," Stoops said. "He handled it the right way. And I know it was easy for me because I was very fair in the whole process. I gave him every opportunity to win the job."

There likely will be one more difficult conversation ahead, as Stoops ultimately tells one of his quarterbacks he'll play a backup role. It's unclear when that determination will be made.

"I'm sure (the backup will) be disappointed," Stoops said. "If they're a competitor, they'll be disappointed. But I expect both of them to be ready to go, because they're going to play and it'll still be an open competition, really, to see who wins it."
















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