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Sanders, UK begin process of preparing Whitlow, Towles

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Jalen Whitlow will split time at quarterback with Patrick Towles on Saturday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics) Jalen Whitlow will split time at quarterback with Patrick Towles on Saturday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
Knowing Maxwell Smith was still battling a shoulder injury and given the nature of football, Kentucky offensive coordinator Randy Sanders had a contingency plan at quarterback on Saturday.

When Smith went down with an ankle injury on Saturday against South Carolina, the Wildcats put the backup plan into action. Jalen Whitlow, running a simplified version of UK's no-huddle offense, guided his team to a 17-7 halftime lead before South Carolina adjusted at halftime and raced past the Cats.

"We had plan A, our game plan, and we had plan B in case something happened," Sanders said. "I just didn't expect having to run 65 plays in plan B. I thought we had a pretty good plan B, but in the second half, they kind of caught up to it because we had run it so long."

With Smith undergoing surgery to repair a torn ligament in his ankle, plan B becomes plan A. Sanders' challenge is to make it so the opponent - Mississippi State this time around - isn't able to catch on so quickly, if at all.

"I got a few things to do," Sanders said.

Already, a significant new wrinkle has been added. In relief of Smith, Whitlow lined up at quarterback exclusively last weekend, while fellow true freshman Patrick Towles stayed on the sideline. The coaches wanted to keep the option to redshirt Towles, but with Smith out for an extended period, that's off the table. Now that the redshirt is off, Towles is going to play.

"Who gets the first snap, I don't know, but they'll both play," Sanders said. "It'll have to be a rotation because I can't get either one of them ready to do the whole thing."

Instead, he'll spend this week helping each to prepare to do an assigned portion. Exactly how UK ends up splitting time between the two remains to be seen and will be largely decided in practice this week.

"I have thoughts in my head, but a lot of it's going to be determined on how they practice today, tomorrow and then again on Thursday," Sanders said. "Not only how they practice, but the answers they give me in meetings, how they respond. You try to play to each guy's strengths."

Sanders got his first chance to work with UK's new quarterback pair on Tuesday morning as the Cats practiced indoors. Predictably, there were some highs and some lows.

"They did alright," Sanders said. "We set a new record for knucklehead calls a couple times, calling them knuckleheads or something pretty close to that."

The two took turns working with the first- and second-team offense. Whitlow has obviously had a chance to work with the first teamers having already seen in action in two games. Towles, though, has been working almost exclusively with the scout team in recent weeks.

"We had a little bit of rotation just, as much as anything else, to get the first group used to hearing Patrick, just so they could hear his verbiage, they could hear his cadence and the way he communicated," Sanders said.

Communication is one thing, but adjusting to the speed of the game is another entirely. According to coaches, both Towles and Whitlow are quick studies, but putting knowledge into practice is far easier said than done.

"When it starts happening fast and you have 2.5 seconds to get back there and read the defense, make a decision and get the ball out of your hands while avoiding the rush or finding a lane to throw it through, that's the challenge," Sanders said.

Helping the cause of the two freshmen is the no-huddle offense Sanders and Joker Phillips molded around the strengths of Smith. On the face of things, learning a fast-paced attack like UK's would seem more difficult than a traditional one. Quite the contrary, Sanders sees it as a help.

Sanders takes much of the play-calling and at-the-line adjustments out of the hands of the quarterback in his system, meaning Whitlow and Towles will be able to focus on their responsibilities.

"It's really easier for them to operate in the no huddle because a lot of times the hardest thing for a young guy is just getting the play called right in the huddle," Sanders said. "If you don't have to worry about that, it makes it easier."

Sanders has twice had to prepare a true freshmen to start a Southeastern Conference game - Morgan Newton in 2009 at Auburn and Smith last year against Ole Miss. This, however, is the first time he's had the luxury of the no-huddle offense.

Regardless, Sanders knows there will be mistakes. What he's not willing to accept is anything less than complete dedication to improvement.

"The older I get, the less patient I am, honestly," Sanders said. "I think part of it is they have to understand the sense of urgency to get better. Not being patient doesn't mean you don't understand there's going to be mistakes. I do understand there's going to be mistakes. You just got to make sure the mistakes aren't the kind that kill your team."

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