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Notebook: Cats continue to get younger as injured list grows

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True freshman Jalen Whitlow will start at quarterback for the second straight game this weekend at Arkansas. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics) True freshman Jalen Whitlow will start at quarterback for the second straight game this weekend at Arkansas. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
With an already young roster being subjected to an onslaught of injuries over the last few weeks, the Kentucky football team bears only a passing resemblance to the unit that took the field at the beginning of a stretch of three consecutive games against ranked opponents.
Players that expected to occupy reserve roles have become starters and some that thought they would be redshirting have been pressed into action. 
"It's part of the game," head coach Joker Phillips said. "We have had to move people around before and we won some of those games. So we expect that to happen this year."
The Wildcats (1-5, 0-3 Southeastern Conference) will get their next chance to pick up a win this weekend as they travel to face Arkansas (2-4, 1-2 SEC), but they'll do it with one of the most inexperienced teams in the nation.
Kentucky lists 57 total players on its two-deep roster on offense and defense. Of those 57, well over half - 34 to be exact - are freshmen or sophomores. Among those 34 are 13 true freshmen. On special teams, UK has a true freshman punter, redshirt freshmen starting at holder and long snapper and another true freshman having handled 17 of the team's 23 kick returns.
"We got a lot of those young guys that are playing some exciting ball," Phillips said. "Again, there's going to be mistakes made when you're playing guys that are freshmen and playing for the first time."
The defense has been particularly affected. In the backfield, the Cats went with three true freshmen along with senior Cartier Rice, while fellow first-year players Khalid Henderson and Pancho Thomas rotated at linebacker.
"It was kind of amazing," Henderson said. "It just seemed like we were a high school all-star team at times in a sense. That's just the way it goes: next man in and you got to keep working together. I'm kind of glad for that opportunity the freshman class is having. We're going to get better."
Zack Blaylock was part of that patchwork defensive backfield and he was one of two freshmen to see his first game action last Saturday against Mississippi State. The other was quarterback Patrick Towles, but he went down with an injury himself, hurting his ankle on a sack late in the second quarter.
On Monday, Phillips announced that Towles has been diagnosed with a high ankle sprain and has been ruled out for this weekend against Arkansas. After splitting time with Towles against MSU, Jalen Whitlow will be UK's starter at quarterback with Morgan Newton backing him up.
The Cats' inexperience is certainly playing a role in some of their struggles through the first half of the season, but it's also been a positive in some ways. Not only are they building a foundation for the future, but having so many young players in major roles makes moving on from losses a little easier.
"This is a young team and I think that's the part that benefits us," said offensive guard Zach West, a relative veteran as a redshirt freshman. "These guys don't really know a lot better right now and I think we come to work every Tuesday. The whole team is inspired by it and I don't think I've seen one week where we haven't been ready to work."
Play calls changing too

UK's personnel isn't the only thing changing due to the wave of injuries.
The injury to quarterback Maxwell Smith has forced the coaching staff's hand. UK's new quick-strike offense was tailored to the strengths of the sophomore signal caller, but the Cats have had to rely more heavily on their running game in his absence.
"We have had to be creative," Phillips said. "Some of it has been in a real short week."
In the first three games of 2012, the Cats called passes on 155 of 219 (70.8 percent) offensive plays. With Smith sidelined for all but two plays of the next three games, UK called passes on just 94 of 173 plays (45.7 percent). Those numbers count sacks as called passes, but do not account for plays on which the quarterback scrambled after a pass was initially called.
With Smith potentially out for the rest of the season, UK figures to continue to more heavily rely on the running game. The offensive line doesn't mind having to get more physical.
"It is an adjustment, but it's not a huge adjustment," West said. "We feel like we've run blocked a lot and we feel like we've done it well against a lot of different fronts and now we're just going to have to do a lot better and work on conditioning."

Full injury update
Though he won't be available this weekend with a high ankle sprain, Towles will be evaluated on a week-by-week basis. The injury will not require surgery, but if he is unable to return this season, UK can apply for a medical hardship waiver so that he can retain a season of eligibility.

In the secondary, Martavius Neloms (hip strain), Mikie Benton (ankle), Ashely Lowery (head) and Kory Brown (hamstring) are day-to-day. Sophomore safety Glenn Faulkner is still recovering from ankle surgery. He tried to run last week, but was unable to. His return in 2012 is unlikely.
Kickoff time for Georgia set, not TV
UK's Homecoming game against Georgia on Oct. 20 will be at 7 p.m. ET, but where it will be television has not yet been determined. Based on this weekend's games, it will be selected by either ESPN2, ESPNU or FSN.

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