LEXINGTON — The Mark Stoops era as head coach of the Kentucky football team witnessed perhaps its greatest highlight yet as 50,831 rejuvenated fans attended the 2013 Blue/White Spring Game at Commonwealth Stadium Saturday night.
Saturday night's crowd, the largest to attend a spring game in program history, saw the Blue squad squeak out a one-point victory over the White team in the annual scrimmage, 24-23. It was Stoops first time out on the Commonwealth Stadium turf with his new team in front of the fans after 14 spring practices installing offensive and defensive schemes.
"Thought it was a great night for the program," said Stoops. "Really appreciate the fan support, just an unbelievable atmosphere. I thought the players played hard. Made some mistakes, but overall, pretty clean game. So, very excited."
The evening marked the height of the growing excitement around Kentucky football which was sparked with the hiring of Stoops on Nov. 27 last year. Since that moment, a fan base had its attention turned to a new-look, new-attitude program.
Stoops has been blown away by the support.
"It's remarkable, it really is," said Stoops. "I've said it a few times, but again, I really thank (the fans) for their support and their belief and their passion for this program. It's tremendous."
The Kentucky faithful finally got to see a glimpse of what the new coaching staff had been working on since joining the Big Blue Nation with Stoops coming on board in late November. Stoops promised to bring a new approach to the defensive side of the ball with his offense revisiting a familiar style of play from air-raid era with an up-tempo offense.
As the Wildcats put five passing touchdowns on the board, it marked the return of the old air raid sirens that once carried through the Lexington skies on game day.
With very little decided in the way of starters and roles, all five of Kentucky's quarterbacks received reps during Saturday evening's scrimmage, with the majority of the opportunities going to Maxwell Smith, Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow. Coach Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown have yet to determine who their starting quarterback will be going into the fall, and with very little chance to see them up-close and personal, there's no hurry to name one.
However, with fairly equal playing time divvied up amongst the signal callers, it was Whitlow who threw and rushed for the most yardage in Brown's new-look schemes.
Whitlow did a little bit of everything in the game, displaying a strong, accurate arm, finding multiple receivers, and showing off his speed which gives him a unique, additional element to his game. He finished the night 17-of-28 with 193 yards and two touchdowns through the air, while scampering for 49 net yards on seven attempts on the ground while toggling back and forth between the Blue and White squads.
"Jalen did a nice job," said Stoops. "He has that dimension to run the football and pull it down when something is not there and create, so he did. He did a nice job tonight. I was impressed with the way Jalen played."
In order to not tip their hand with regards to a starting quarterback, the UK coaches opted to send each of Whitlow, Smith and Towles on to the field for the first play, where they promptly direct snapped the ball to running back Raymond Sanders. From there, as promised, Smith alphabetically took the first real snap at quarterback over the other two.