Kentucky Hits Road to Face SEC West Foe Arkansas
Oct. 11, 2012
Looking for its first conference win of the season, Kentucky will break from a two-game homestand when it travels to Fayetteville, Ark., this weekend to battle preseason top-10 ranked Arkansas at Donald. W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET (6 p.m. CT in Fayetteville).
Kentucky is coming off a difficult stretch in which it faced a top-20 ranked, undefeated conference opponent for three consecutive weeks. UK opened conference play against No. 14 Florida and No. 6 South Carolina before falling to No. 20 Mississippi State last weekend in Lexington.
UK head coach Joker Phillips has had to work around several injuries the last few weeks, including starting quarterback Maxwell Smith out indefinitely and starting tailback Coshik Williams out for the season. Before the injury, Smith was ranked top-10 nationally in completions per game and passing yards per game.
Last weekend against Mississippi State, true freshman quarterbacks Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles filled in at the position. Both players led UK to a touchdown, staring with Towles, who marched UK 80 yards down the field on 5-for-5 passing before injuring an ankle on the next offensive possession that sat him out of action the remainder of the game. Whitlow scored his touchdown with his feet, punching in a three-yard rush.
The UK defense, which has also dealt with its share of injuries, continued its improvement against the Bulldogs. The Wildcats allowed the Bulldogs to score only seven points in the second half last Saturday, adding seven pass breakups for the game, which was a season high. UK allowed 158 rushing yards, fewest of the season. Towles and safety Zach Blaylock became the 13th and 14th true freshmen to play for Kentucky this season, which ranks the Wildcats in the top five nationally in that category.
Cat Scratches: Steady-handed Whitlow preparing to be 'the guy' at QB
The 2012 season has been one of baby steps for Jalen Whitlow.
First, the true freshman quarterback played his way into the No. 3 spot on the depth chart in camp. As the opening weeks of the season wore on, his coaches began to groom him for the backup role. In a win over Kent State, Whitlow played the final series for his first collegiate snaps. At Florida, Whitlow came on in fourth-quarter relief. The outcome wasn't in doubt, but his first playing time in a conference game was meaningful, particularly in an environment as hostile as The Swamp.
A week later, Whitlow was the backup to the returning Maxwell Smith, prepared to play after getting some of his first reps with the first team. It turned out he needed to be ready, as Smith went down with an ankle injury on Kentucky's second offensive play. The game was Whitlow's the rest of the way. Last week, with Smith sidelined indefinitely, Whitlow knew he would be starting against Mississippi State. However, the plan was for him to rotate with fellow freshman Patrick Towles, at least until Towles left with an ankle injury of his own.
It hasn't happened by plan - because no one plans to lose two quarterbacks in two weeks - but the last few months have been building to this Saturday for Whitlow. As UK hits the road to take on Arkansas, Whitlow goes into the game knowing for the first time in his career that things are on him and him alone. ... read the full preview
Arkansas enter Saturday's game after a key SEC road win last weekend at Auburn 24-7. The win was the second of the season for the Razorbacks, who also won their season opener against Jacksonville State.
For the most part, Arkansas has been a strong offensive team this season, scoring 49 points in its season opener and 31 points the next week. Arkansas' star quarterback Tyler Wilson did not play against the Crimson Tide, but has returned since and played well. Wilson ranks second in the SEC and 17th nationally in total offense, while sitting eighth in the conference and 36th nationally in passing efficiency.
Offensively, Arkansas ranks 24th in the nation in passing offense, averaging 301.3 passing yards a game, while the offensive line has done a nice job of protecting the quarterback, sitting third in the conference and top-50 nationally in fewest sacks allowed. The Razorbacks also average 108.2 rushing yards a game.
The UA defense turned in its best performance of the season last week at Auburn, limiting the Tigers to seven points. The Razorbacks were solid up front against Auburn, only allowing AU 40 rushing yards in the game. The big key for Arkansas in the win was creat ing five turnovers, getting three interceptions and two fumbles. Alonzo Highsmith leads the Razorback defense with 54 tackles, while Ross Rasner is second on the team with 47.
Arkansas has also been strong on special teams as punter Dylan Breeding ranks second in the conference with an average of 46.4 yards per punt. As a team, Arkansas ranks fourth in net punting. The Razorbacks are also fifth in the conference in kickoff coverage.