LEXINGTON, Ky --- In the event Jalen Whitlow and Max Smith are too injured to play, Mark Stoops said Monday he will go with true freshman Reese Phillips as his third option at quarterback. And with how banged up Whitlow and Smith are, Phillips might be closer to the field than fans previously thought.
The plan has been for both Phillips and sophomore Patrick Towles to redshirt this season, but injuries to the Wildcats top two signal callers are forcing the coaching staff to have a contingency plan. That means Phillips, the three-star recruit out of Tennessee, is getting ready to play over Towles, a former four-star and top-ranked recruit in the state of Kentucky.
"We will get Reese some reps in practice," said Stoops at his weekly news conference, ahead of Saturday's homecoming game against Alabama State.
The hope is still that Jalen Whitlow is healthy enough to continue playing, but it's clear he will be playing hurt, with injuries to both his ankle and AC joint in his shoulder.
"He'd better," Stoops quipped about whether Whitlow will practice this week. "Yeah, he's going. He's got a dinged up shoulder; it's fine. It's an AC joint. He'll be sore. He'll be out there practicing today."
Asked if Phillips is actually the second option at quarterback at this point, with Maxwell Smith's shoulder injury and poor play, Stoops said that is undecided.
"I don't know. We'll work on it this week," said Stoops. "(Phillips is) definitely going to be an option."
Stoops spent much of Monday saying Kentucky needed to play "smarter football", calling for his team to "execute in critical situations". His observations of Phillips as a quarterback echoed that.
"Reese, he's always done a nice job of managing the game, going back to the spring game, all the scrimmages he's been in, the scrimmages we did this year during the year. He takes care of the football," said Stoops.
"If nothing else, if we get ourselves with certain plays and checks and run‑pass options, if we just execute the call, we give ourselves a chance. We're not even doing that at times, and that's frustrating, let alone throws or different things," Stoops elaborated. "It's just putting ourselves, putting our team in a position to be successful with decisions. I think he does a nice job of protecting the football, and I think he does a nice job with his decision making."
Stoops said he believes Phillips can be a quarterback that can stack good plays together, and time is running out to keep on waiting for Whitlow or Smith to emerge, even if the reason neither has emerged is because of injuries.
"He's a true freshman, and we had other options. He didn't get as many reps all along, but he has gotten reps and he has been impressive," said Stoops. "I think Jalen has been there. I think Jalen is the guy that has been very close to leading us, and then we get an injury and set us back, and that can't happen. We've just got to stay healthy. We've got to be stronger. We have got to protect him better, and if he does go down we've got to be better prepared for somebody else to lead us."
If that happens, Phillips is the guy, leaving Patrick Towles as the odd man out, a home-state player that is starting to look like another prospect the recruiting rankings got wrong.
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