By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State will have a chance to feast on not one, but two freshmen quarterbacks this weekend.
With starting QB Maxwell Smith is out for the season with an ankle injury, Kentucky will start freshman Jalen Whitlow against the No. 20-ranked Bulldogs on Saturday. Another freshman, Patrick Towles, is also expected to play.
“One’s gotta go in, and that’s what you guys call starters. We don’t always call them starters,” head coach Joker Phillips told Lexington media. “So one of them will have to go in, and Jalen will probably be the first one based on the play that we call.”
This means MSU has to prepare for a couple of unknowns. Whitlow has played this year, and in fact played most of the game in Saturday’s 38-17 loss to South Carolina after Smith went down.
Whitlow completed 12 of 23 passes for 114 yards and two interceptions.
“He made some plays against a very, very good, an outstanding defense. That concerns you,” MSU safeties coach Tony Hughes said. “His running ability concerns you, and also he passed the ball efficiently.”
Towles, a highly rated prospect out of Ft. Thomas, Ky., is what MSU coach Dan Mullen called “a complete quarterback.” He was named Kentucky’s Gatorade Player of the Year last season and has yet to play this fall.
Playing from ahead
MSU hasn’t had to play from behind very much this season.
According to State’s media relations department, the Bulldogs have trailed for only 10 minutes, 19 seconds through four games. That ranks sixth in the country behind West Virginia, Oregon, Alabama, TCU and Notre Dame.
The only real trouble MSU has faced was against Auburn, when it trailed 10-7 early in the second half before reeling off 21 unanswered points.
“As soon as you face adversity, what’s your immediate response to that, and we’ve been pretty well with that,” Mullen said. “When we need to make plays, we seem to make plays.”
Johnson, Smith return?
Mullen is hoping tight end Malcolm Johnson and right guard Tobias Smith are back on the field this weekend.
Johnson has been out all season with a pectoral injury, while Smith has missed the last two games as coaches protect the knee he injured last season.
Mullen on Johnson: “He hasn’t done any live stuff (in practice) yet, so he still has some recovery time left, the adaptation time to get back in it. … Basically his training camp has started now and everybody else is halfway through the season.”
Mullen on whether Smith or Justin Malone will start: “We’ll wait until warmups. I want to see how Tobias is and how he’s feeling, how confident he is with everything going on. If he feels really confident and 100 percent, then you probably go with him.”