By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Amid a season of struggle, Kentucky must now rely on a pair of freshmen at quarterback. That makes Mississippi State’s game plan, in a sense, fairly simple.
“Intimidation, it’s gonna be coming, that’s for sure, from every angle. You can bet that,” senior linebacker Cam Lawrence said.
Jalen Whitlow is the likely starter when the Wildcats (1-4, 0-2 SEC) host No. 20 MSU (4-0, 1-0) on Saturday. Patrick Towles will have his redshirt pulled so he can play, too.
This has all been necessitated by an ankle injury to starter Maxwell Smith, who’s return this season is in serious doubt. He went down early in last week’s 38-17 loss to No. 6 South Carolina, and so Whitlow logged his most extensive playing time to date, completing 12 of 23 passes for 114 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips has said that while he knows the playbook for the two young QBs will be smaller than it was for Smith, he doesn’t want to keep it so simple that it makes MSU’s job easier on defense.
“You’ve got to give them enough, but not too much that you complicate things for them,” Phillips said. “In the end, they are the ones who matter whether or not they’re getting it.”
Whitlow was sacked six times last week, and that’s an area where MSU’s defense is seeking more production. The Bulldogs have just five sacks, which ranks last in the SEC.
Coach Dan Mullen said that’s due in large part to the types of offenses State has faced. He said Auburn was the only “traditional” offense his defense has seen.
“I want to see as the season plays out and we play more of the traditional offenses to be able to judge to see if we are getting the pressure we need,” he said.
Kentucky will spread it out, and it likes to throw. It’s sixth in the SEC with 229.8 passing yards per game, and it has a league-leading 202 pass attempts.
Lawrence is hoping MSU can get inside the quarterbacks’ heads like it did to Auburn’s Kiehl Frazier, who had a forgettable outing in his second career start.
“That’s going to be our game plan. We’re going to come and try to attack (them) from every angle,” Lawrence said. “That’s what we do to every quarterback.”
In the back of Lawrence’s mind, however, will be last year’s meeting. Smith entered early for an injured Morgan Newton and completed 26 of 33 for 174 yards, and he made things interesting in the second half.
MSU held on for a 28-16 win, but that game should remind the Bulldogs to not take Whitlow or Towles lightly.
“You can’t underestimate anybody. Every kid, they’re SEC-caliber players, quarterbacks at that,” Lawrence said. “Gotta still respect them.”