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September 23, 2013

Notes: Starting QB a question; Phillips returns

As Kentucky prepares for No.20 Florida, the Wildcats will do so with question marks at quarterback.

It's been a rinse-and-repeat routine for the Cats this season.

On the newest depth chart released Monday, UK's first-string quarterback read Maxwell Smith or Jalen Whitlow. And with Smith hurting his shoulder against Louisville, there are questions about his health heading into Saturday's showdown against the Gators.

Mark Stoops expected Smith to practice Monday, but UK will monitor his reps.

Smith is on track to play, Stoops said, "from what I understand with the rehab over the weekend."

"We'll see this afternoon," Stoops said. "He's planning on practicing this afternoon, so we'll see where he's at. So hopefully he'll be on point."

Before the injury Smith was 9 of 20 for 109 yards against the Cardinals. Whitlow finished 8 of 17 for 105 yards, a touchdown and an interception, while also rushing for 37 yards.

If Smith can't play Saturday or is limited because of his injury, it's important for Whitlow to get off to a hot start, Stoops said.

"We need to get him off to a fast start," Stoops said. "Once he settles down, he gets into the game and makes some very good throws at times and has the proper reads and all that.

"So we've just got to make sure we get him settled down and get him off to a fast start."

The faster Whitlow or Smith settles down against the Gators the better, but based on how other quarterbacks have performed against Florida this season, it will be a challenge.

Florida's defense is allowing just 212.3 yards per game, second-best in Division I.

Smith didn't play against Florida last year while Whitlow finished just 1 of 6 for 12 yards.

"They're very good defensively," Stoops said. "As good as maybe anyone we'll play this year. So very good, very talented, very physical on defense."

Welcome back
Florida's visit to Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday it will be Joker Phillips' first trip back since he coached the Wildcats last season.

Phillips is now the Gators' wide receivers coach. And while Phillips had his ups and downs with the Cats, Stoops expects him to receive a warm welcome.

"I think most people around here have good feelings about Coach Phillips and the work that he's done at Kentucky," Stoops said. "He's a very good person and a good coach, so I don't think that'll have any bearing on the game."

Phillips finished with a 13-24 record in three seasons as the head coach at Kentucky, making a bowl game his first year.

Stoops doesn't believe his players will be extra motivated playing against Phillips.

"I wouldn't think that would give any extra motivation for us," Stoops said. "We ought to be pretty motivated as it is to prepare to play a very good football team."

Adding to that motivation is the fact UK hasn't beaten Florida since 1986, long before any current players were born.

"Sure, I think it's motivation," Stoops said. "I do. I think it needs to be talked about, but that can't be the focal point."

Instead, Phillips and the streak aside, Stoops wants the focus to be on his team getting better.

"We have to get better each and every day, each and every game," Stoops said. "That's really what we're worried about, and that's been my message since I've been here: just to get better."

Change of plans
In Florida's 31-17 win over Tennessee Saturday, the Gators lost starting quarterback Jeff Driskel to a broken leg, ending his season.

That means the Cats will face Tyler Murphy, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound junior known as a scrambling quarterback. He passed for 134 yards against the Volunteers, completing 8-of-14 passes while rushing for 84 yards on 10 carries. He passed and rushed for a touchdown.

Stoops said preparing for Murphy will slightly change the initial game plan.

"A little bit," Stoops said. "Not a whole bunch. I think both guys can run the ball a little bit when they want to and certainly Murphy showed some athleticism and some speed, and I'm sure they'll want to use (that) from time to time."

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