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October 2, 2013Early Wednesday afternoon, Mark Stoops made it clear he wasn't happy with his quarterback play.
By the evening, he'd broadened his focus. After his Kentucky football team practiced Wednesday in preparation for Saturday's game at South Carolina, Stoops made it clear he wasn't happy with much of anything.
"Very unacceptable practice today. Just very frustrating," Stoops said. "Preparation wasn't good enough, effort wasn't good enough, attitude wasn't good enough. Not good."
And Stoops was just getting started.
He said he had players "looking for a rock to hide under," confessed that "I don't know if we're ready" for a tough game against the Gamecocks and said that if the Cats didn't clean up before their trip to Columbia, S.C., this weekend, "we're gonna get rolled."
That came hours after Stoops on the Southeastern Conference teleconference expressed exasperation with Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith, the two-man quarterback rotation that UK is trying to narrow to one.
Stoops said Kentucky gave most of the first-team practice snaps to one of the two on Tuesday -- he didn't say which one -- and that the featured candidate didn't respond.
"We've got to make a decision, but like I said before, I'm not going to panic and just name one just because we're all frustrated and we're not getting consistent play out of the quarterbacks," Stoops said. "We need to find the right one. And I'm not very happy. I don't think we've been very consistent there."
The same quarterback -- which one remains a mystery -- got most of the snaps in Wednesday's practice, and offensive coordinator Neal Brown saw encouraging signs.
"The one that got a majority of the reps did perform much better today," Brown said, "and to be honest, Tuesdays are -- we throw a lot at our guys on Tuesday, try to put our people in the worst case scenarios -- so sometimes our Tuesdays are slow, especially to start and then we usually pick it up as the week goes."
Still, Brown wants a single quarterback to emerge, the sooner the better. And like his boss, he's perturbed it's taken so long.
"It's frustrating," Brown said. "I think we've got to play better at that position. If we play better at that position, the whole unit plays better. I don't think there's any question about that. I'm not discouraged because there's bright spots. It's kind of like the whole unit. Frustrated? I was frustrated after the game. Y'all could tell that. But I'm not discouraged because I do see bright spots. I'm just not seeing it consistently."
Though neither Whitlow nor Smith has separated from the other, they remain clearly ahead of backups Patrick Towles and Reese Phillips, who are evaluated in practices.
"We look at them," Stoops said. "We practice, we get a lot of snaps, and we look at them every day. If we thought (playing one of them) was a viable option, we'd do it."
But it was clear on Wednesday that the quarterbacks aren't Stoops' only source of frustration. Stoops said he didn't give his team a chance to respond to a post-practice tongue-lashing, but running back Raymond Sanders said the message was clear.
"I'm pretty sure y'all seen it on his face," Sanders said. "Steam coming out of his ears and everything. He was pretty upset, and he definitely let us know."
Kentucky (1-3, 0-1 SEC) is headed into the second half of a four-game stretch against ranked opponents. The Cats already have lost to Louisville and Florida and now face South Carolina (3-1, 1-1) and Alabama.
"This is a brutal game, brutal schedule," Stoops said. "We're right in the middle of it. Can't run from it. If we go give it everything we got, prepare every day to win and prepare to play, then I can live with the results. But this was not part of our journey today. This was not a good day. You're not getting any better today."
Kentucky is a heavy underdog against South Carolina. After Wednesday's practice, Stoops suggested it might not be heavy enough.
"We'll coach them hard and see if we can get more out of them tomorrow and see if we can get this turned around, because whatever it was, 21-point spread, ain't enough," Stoops said. "Because we ain't even close to that right now."