No one could touch Jalen Whitlow.
Nevermind that the Wildcat defense wasn't allowed to tackle Whitlow or Kentucky's other quarterbacks. Just getting some hands on the sophomore was difficult enough. He finished Saturday's Blue/White scrimmage 17-28 passing for 193 yards with two passing touchdowns while rushing for 49 yards on seven carries.
"He's looked like that all spring," senior middle linebacker Avery Williamson said. "He's very hard to defend."
Whitlow said he's made strides this spring, improving his accuracy and attacking with both his arms and legs. He was an afterthought in the quarterback competition when he arrived on campus in August, but his confidence has risen significantly since.
"In my mind, I never feel like an underdog," Whitlow said. "I have an inner confidence and try to go out there and prove what I can do."
The Blue team beat the White team 24-23, as a late two-point conversion by the White team came up short. The Blue team, consisting mainly of the first team defense and the second team offense, pulled ahead by two touchdowns early in the fourth quarter before the White team, comprised mainly of the starting offense and second team defense, came back to even things up. Quarterbacks rotated between the two teams to even out snaps.
Brown tried to make things as even as possible. All three quarterbacks involved in the competition for the starting job -- Whitlow, Maxwell Smith and Patrick Towles -- lined up for the first snap so there wasn't a single starter at the position. The first play was a direct snap to Raymond Sanders, so none of the three could even take the first snap.
But Whitlow arrived on a different playing field by the end of the night. He led the offense to three touchdown drives and a field goal. Towles, Smith, and early enrollee Reese Phillips each led a single touchdown drive.
"Jalen did a nice job," head coach Mark Stoops said. "He has that dimension to run the football and pull it down when something is not there and create. He did a nice job tonight. I was impressed with the way Jalen played."
It was a far cry from Whitlow's performance in 2012, when he struggled after being thrown into action as a true freshman following an injury to Smith. He started the final seven games of the season, but had just three touchdown passes in those games.
When spring practice arrived, the starting job was no longer his.
"Getting thrown to the fire, it does one of two things for you," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "It either damages you, or you really find out what it takes and you come back stronger than ever. I think that's what happened to him."
Whitlow said his freshman year was "tough." He went 1-6 as a starter, trading time with Towles. Spring practice was a new beginning for the whole program, but also for Whitlow. He spent time after the season studying NFL quarterbacks, trying to improve his knowledge of the game.
"Last year was a whirlwind, but it was a start," Whitlow said. "I needed that. Those ups and downs and everything, I think I gained a lot of maturity from last year. It helped me a lot."
Whitlow may have looked like the star to the school-record crowd of 50,831, but Brown wanted some time to review the film of the scrimmage before moving him ahead of the other quarterbacks. Smith finished 11-18 for 108 yards and a touchdown, while Towles went 6-14 for 65 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Whitlow's legs may have carried him to a strong performance to close spring, but the quarterback battle will likely remain open until fall camp.
"To be honest, at field level, you can see some things," Brown said. "I know we missed some throws, I know we made some poor pre-snap decisions. All three of them, at different times. Until you watch the film, you really don't know."
But Whitlow knew what he had done. He'd led the offense up and down the field, but he'd come farther than that.
"You got to carry yourself with confidence," Whitlow said. "Players carry themselves with confidence You don't ever see Peyton Manning carrying himself like a regular Joe."