This has certainly been a whirlwind week for Kentucky Wildcats Football. As most of you know, starting quarterback Max Smith was injured on the second offensive play against South Carolina, and while true freshman Jalen Whitlow played admirably against one of the nation's best defenses, it wasn't enough. Despite a 17-7 halftime lead, the Cats eventually succumbed to superior talent and the game ended with a whimper and a 38-17 loss.
On Monday news came that Smith would have surgery on a torn ankle ligament and may miss the remainder of the season. Now word from Kentucky's camp is that both Whitlow and fellow frosh Patrick Towles will see snaps against the Mississippi St. Bulldogs this Saturday. This means, of course, that Towles will not be redshirted as the Cats previously planned.
We've seen a lot of speculation this week about the quarterback situation and the overall direction of the program. Here are some of the theories out there and my effort to sort through them. I'm expressing my opinions here, so feel free to disagree.
Joker Will Burn Patrick Towles' redshirt this Saturday
Right now, I wouldn't take anything that is said about who will play on Saturday at face value. The Kentucky staff was in a bad situation already and the Smith news has just made it worse. There is still a part of me that believes if Jalen Whitlow plays effectively and avoids injury, we will not see Towles this week. First off, he probably isn't ready to jump in and lead the offense after playing with the scout team all year. Secondly, Whitlow was reportedly ahead of Towles all along. Has that suddenly changed? Finally, the decision to burn Towles' redshirt should not be entered into lightly, if that decision can wait, then perhaps it should.
I am not saying that Towles won't play Saturday. Nor am I saying that UK is necessarily fibbing about his status. I am saying that they might be, and if he doesnt play it would not be a shock. If I were on this staff, I'd be looking for every possible angle to throw the Bulldogs off. Who could blame them?
Patrick Towles will play this year.
Ultimately, Kentucky is going to need a backup QB in the 2012 season. It is a fact of life in the SEC. Though the schedule was front-loaded, Kentucky still has two Top 25 teams left and three league road games against Arkansas and two decent SEC teams. In keeping with the youth movement of the team and common sense, it is unlikely that Morgan Newton will see the field again as a QB. The chance that Whitlow will be available every play and consistently effective for the next seven games are somewhat less than even money.
Add to that the pressure to play Towles in 2012, and I'd say it is very unlikely he doesn't play at some point.
Whitlow is the running QB, Towles is the throwing QB.
You don't have to be Al Sharpton to see how this misconception might take hold. Whitlow may be faster, Towles may have a bigger arm, but the distinction here isn't exactly black and white, so to speak. Whitlow played in a two quarterback system in high school. The other QB was Justin Thomas, who committed to Georgia Tech to run the triple option because Alabama wanted him to change positions. Whitlow was the throwing quarterback there. He can make plays with his legs, sure. But remember that Whitlow was an Arkansas St. decommit. Gus Malzahn desperately wanted him to come there. Malzahn certainly wasn't planning on running the option or the Wildcat with Whitlow.
Towles, on the other hand, is hardly slow. He reportedly runs a 4.7- 40 yard dash and was actually listed by one scouting service as an "Athlete" rather than a "Pro-style Quarterback." Towles ran for 589 and 15TD's last year at Highlands.
Removing Towles' redshirt would be a selfish move on Joker's part.
Talk about a no-win situation. Towles wants to play, his father clearly wants him to play, and it looks like the team may need him. He is on scholarship to play football. If Phillips needs him to play, he plays.
Unless Whitlow were to play like an All-American the rest of the season, Joker would take every bit as much flak, if not more, if Towles didn't get a chance. In fact, there are still plenty of people (me among them) upset because Ryan Mossakowski didn't at least get an opportunity to take meaningful snaps before deciding to cast his lot elsewhere.
Finally, there is this. If Towles does decide to transfer to another D-1 school, he'll be sitting out next year and have three years of eligibility left come 2014 whether he redshirts this year or not. If he and his family are contemplating that, they aren't out anything if he plays.
Joker bowed to pressure somewhat in announcing that he'd pull Towles' redshirt.
Status: I can't say for sure, but I'll go with Fact
I can't pretend to be in anyone's head, but Mr. Towles' media blitz after the Florida game, combined with Smith's subsequent injury, put Phillips in a bit of a pickle. If Joker's pronouncement that Towles would play was impacted by the freshman's comfort level with the program, well, it isn't the first time a star athlete and his family got its way. If I were Joker, a part of me would be thinking, "fine, you want your son to play this year, well here is his chance."
Max Smith has played too much to seek a medical eligibility waiver.
I am guilty of blabbing about this while relying on the internet and outdated material. In essence, if a player plays only the first half of a season, does not play in more than 30% of his team's games (Important: the NCAA rounds up to the next whole number) and has an injury that can be documented to prevent him from playing the remainder of his team's games, he can receive a waiver from the NCAA to play an extra year.
The number used to be 20% (3 games when rounded up), which means Max would have played two plays too many to receive the waiver. I have verified the rule change with @thebylawblog on Twitter, who is the gospel when it comes to these things.
Bottom line: If Smith does not return in 2012, he, Whitlow and Towles may all be playing as sophomores next year. Smith could turn into UK's version of Case Keenum, who seemingly spent 18 years as Houston's QB. If this is the case, certainly Whitlow or Towles will redshirt in 2013.
Saturday will be a very interesting day at Commonwealth Stadium.