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Cats ready for new experience heading to Mizzou

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Freshman Jalen Whitlow has 368 yards passing, 78 yards running and three total touchdowns in three starts. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics) Freshman Jalen Whitlow has 368 yards passing, 78 yards running and three total touchdowns in three starts. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
With a team as young as Kentucky's, the 2012 season has been full of new experiences, but even the relatively few veterans on the roster about go through something for the first time this weekend.

Not a single current Wildcat was alive - or within even 20 years of being born - the last time UK and Missouri matched up in 1968. In fact, Joker Phillips was five years old and 13 years away from even beginning his playing career at Kentucky.

The Cats will be making their first-ever trip to Columbia, Mo., with the Tigers as members of the Southeastern Conference, which means everything from landing at the airport to driving to Faurot Field Memorial Stadium to taking the field will be unfamiliar.

"Only three of our coaches have ever been there," Phillips said.

The game between Kentucky (1-7, 0-5 SEC) and Missouri (3-4, 0-4 SEC) doesn't kick off until noon ET on Saturday on ESPNU, but the Wildcats are going to take an opportunity to get the lay of the land after they arrive on Friday. The coaching staff wants to eliminate as much uncertainty as possible.

"With us going into Columbia, we'll drive by the stadium just to get familiar with the locker room, get familiar with the field, which sideline is ours, all of those things because it's a lot of guys who are unfamiliar with the place," Phillips said.

Reducing uncertainty is definitely desirable, because there will be plenty of it regardless of where the game is played considering the Cats will be alternating between two freshman quarterbacks.

Since Maxwell Smith went down to injury, Jalen Whitlow has been UK's starter. However, the initial plan was to rotate him with Patrick Towles, but that was temporarily undone in the first half of a game against Mississippi State when Towles was lost to a high ankle sprain.

Towles missed two games, but proved himself to be a quick healer as he claimed and has practiced all week leading up to Missouri.

"It was really his fourth day working with the varsity," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said after practice on Tuesday. "It's easy to forget when he got hurt against Mississippi State that was really his first week of not being down running off cards on scout team."

However, Towles did have the benefit of two weeks spent learning. Rather than staying in the training room for treatment, he was on the sideline for every practice during his absence. He was also in all quarterback meetings.

"I think he understands a little bit more, but again, understanding it on paper or understanding it in the meeting room or on film is still a whole lot different than executing it," Sanders said. "I do think he's put in a lot of effort in staying into it mentally."

With his expected return, the planned rotation between Towles and Whitlow is back too, but that doesn't mean Morgan Newton is completely out of the mix. Each of the last two weeks, Newton has spelled Whitlow at quarterback. Last week, Newton was particularly effective in red-zone relief, throwing and rushing for touchdowns.

"We'll still have a little small package for him, try to get him involved also," Phillips said. "Gives those young guys a chance to step away, if they're struggling or a lot of times on the road it gives them a chance to get things to slow down for them. So we'll have a little small package for Morgan also. I've never played three quarterbacks in a game before."

Barring injury, Missouri won't be playing two or even three quarterbacks, but the Tigers are unsettled at the position too. Junior James Franklin (sprained MCL) had a superb 2011 season, but is doubtful for this weekend. Likely starting in his place will be redshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser.

Berkstresser is a combined 31-for-59 passing for 315 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions after replacing Franklin against Vanderbilt and starting against Alabama.

"He played a lot in the Vanderbilt game and he played against a great defense against - it would be tough for anybody to go in against Alabama," Phillips said. "He's a guy who knows their offense. He's been in their program for two years."

With a bye week following that Alabama game and preceding Missouri's matchup with Kentucky, Phillips can't help but be concerned by what offensive guru Gary Pinkell might devise with a week to spare.

"We may have to adjust to a new offense," Phillips said "We've seen what we've done last year in just three days (installing Matt Roark at quarterback against Tennessee). There's a lot the other team can do in two weeks."

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