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Notebook: UK looking for starter to emerge at QB

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Mark Stoops said on Monday he hopes a starter at quarterback becomes clear this week. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Mark Stoops said on Monday he hopes a starter at quarterback becomes clear this week. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
For the last three weeks, Kentucky has gone with an unconventional two-quarterback system.

Due to the fact that neither Maxwell Smith nor Jalen Whitlow had grabbed hold of the position and their diverse skill sets, UK switched frequently between the two, sometimes even multiple times within a single series.

After Mark Stoops' weekly press conference on Monday, it seems the rotation may finally have run its course.

"I think we're going to try to give it to one person, give him the reps and see what he can do," Stoops said. "I think we need to do that."

Stoops' words came after a long Sunday of reviewing tape from UK's loss to Florida. In the game, neither the quarterbacks nor the offense as a whole was able to establish a rhythm against a stingy Gator defense. The Wildcats managed just seven points and a season-low 173 yards on just 47 plays in a 24-7 defeat.

"With the quarterback situation we need to continue to evaluate that," Stoops said. "Both guys struggled at times, Saturday. That had to do with a great Florida defense and us not executing but we will continue to look at that situation as we go forward."

Smith entered the Florida game confident after throwing well in practice all week, but completed just 12-of-20 passes for 90 yards and an interception. Whitlow - 5-of-6 passing for 35 yards - was more efficient, but the offense wasn't much more effective with him running the show.

Stoops gave no indication of whether he has an early leader in mind, but did say Smith and Whitlow will be judged on consistency above all else as he and offensive coordinator Neal Brown contemplate a decision.

We will tailor our offense to do whatever we (have) to do to help us move the ball to win games," Stoops said. "We just need the best player to come forward and be consistent and give us a chance to win."

Stoops, however, stopped short of guaranteeing UK will settle on one quarterback. There's a reason why a single starter has not yet been named this season.

"It has not been clear-cut at this point," Stoops said. "It would be reckless for us to name one guy at this point because nobody has taken the job and we're going to evaluate it this week and see where we're at."

Stoops reflects on Florida performance

It's Stoops' habit to move on quickly following games, regardless of the outcome. But on Monday, he was more interested than usual in looking back on Saturday's game.

"Just wrapping up the Florida game, after watching the film, I really did think we did some good things," Stoops said. "I thought our players played extremely hard on both sides of the ball."

The disappointment over missed opportunities and the loss itself still lingered, but the Florida game was not without positives. The primary objective remains to win games, but improvement matters too. On that front, Stoops continues to like the way his team is developing.

"We did some good things, we really did," Stoops said. "I mean, listen, I know I may set myself up for the shots or whatever, I mean, I can't worry about all that. All I'm worried about is getting better every day.  I thought our players did a good job, I really do. Our coaches did a good job after being very frustrated after the game and during the game."

On defense, UK allowed a little over 400 yards and 246 on the ground. But behind those statistics, Stoops sees a team that's getting better in one key area.

"I felt like we were a little more stout in the run game," Stoops said. "I was worried about that going into the game. Their primary play is the power and the counter and I thought our players played fairly well."

The defense will get another opportunity to prove itself against the power run as the Cats travel to No. 13/12 South Carolina on Saturday. Mike Davis ran 26 times for 167 yards in the Gamecocks' comeback win over UCF this weekend, not markedly different from the 28 carries for 176 yards Matt Jones had against UK.

On offense, the numbers were even uglier, but Stoops doesn't believe they tell the whole story.

"Going back to last week we only had seven possessions, three of them we had 'em off balance," Stoops said. "We couldn't finish the drives all the time. But we had some opportunities to score some points, and three of them we had 'em off balance."

Now, the attention shifts to working toward finishing more of those drives and getting better on the ones that never started.

"I felt like our players worked hard and fought hard," Stoops said. "We're by no means perfect. We know there are a lot of things we need to clean up and get better at. That was a good indication and, again, that's what I told them after the game: I was looking forward to Monday, let's get back to work on Monday and get better."

Stoops looking forward to matching wits with Spurrier

The relationship between the Stoops family and South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier began in 1996. Spurrier, after his team lost 62-24 to Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl with the national title on the line, hired Bob Stoops to run his defense. The Gators would win a championship the next season.

Today, the families still remain close. Mark Stoops even sees the Spurrier family on beach vacations from time to time.

"I always love seeing Coach Spurrier," Stoops said. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for him, only played against him once, and anytime you play an offensive mind like Coach Spurrier, you have to change things up. He's very good, great play caller, and they have great balance in their offense right now, so it will be a real challenge but it will be exciting."

Ever the competitor, these are the kinds of matchups Stoops lives for.

"I really like playing guys that I have a lot of respect for," Stoops said. "It's fun. You know, last week playing Florida and you see the personality in Will (Muschamp) and you see how the team plays, and I loved that challenge. And now going to South Carolina and playing Coach Spurrier, you know, it's sleepless nights but it gives you a little fix."

South Carolina UK's first road test

For the first time, Stoops will take his team on the road in Southeastern Conference play. The head coach, however, has coached and played in more than his share of hostile road environments.

The same cannot be said about some of the youngsters on whom UK is relying each week. Nonetheless, they have built experience through four games that they'll be able to rely on under the lights in Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday.

"They've been in some games now, and I thought our young wide receivers fought hard against a good secondary, but look at the things we did well, the fighting, the blocking, the things that we evaluate closely," Stoops said. "I was pleased with the fight in our team, I really was."

Stoops said UK will simulate crowd noise in practice this week.

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