LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Jalen Whitlow's motivation to beat top-ranked Alabama Saturday night goes beyond finally becoming Kentucky's starting quarterback.
The Alabama native is looking forward to taking every snap in Kentucky's upset bid against the Crimson Tide, winners of three of the last four national championships.
Whitlow had been alternating at quarterback with Maxwell Smith. The Wildcats (1-4, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) needed one of them to take control of the offense, which Whitlow has steadily done through his ability to run and throw the ball.
The sophomore used both skills last Saturday, rallying Kentucky from a 27-7 deficit to within a touchdown of No. 13 South Carolina before the Wildcats lost 35-28.
The gutsy performance solidified Whitlow's starting spot, just in time for him to welcome the Crimson Tide (5-0, 2-0) to Lexington.
"Growing up, you'd hear about Alabama, so it's a big game," said the Prattville, Ala., native, adding that he's preparing for the nation's dominant team just like any other opponent.
"I'm just coming out here and trying to practice and do it the best of my ability and help the team win. I'm not looking at it any other way."
Whitlow and the Wildcats face a tall task in their first game since 2009 against the Crimson Tide. Kentucky hasn't beaten Alabama since 1997 and is 2-35-1 all-time against the Tide.
The quarterback meanwhile will have his hands full trying to get something going against one of the SEC's top defenses. But finally knowing who's going to take every snap might help Kentucky's pass-oriented Air Raid offense eventually take off.
After using both quarterbacks most of the season with them sometimes alternating snap to snap, the coaching staff decided on a permanent starter for last week's game. Whitlow responded by going 17-of-24 for 178 yards passing and two touchdowns, and rushing for another TD against the Gamecocks.
"What's he done is calm down, first of all, and I think he has more confidence going in games because of his preparation," Wildcats offensive coordinator Neal Brown said of Whitlow, who started the final seven games last season after Smith's season-ending ankle injury.
"The more prepared you are, the more confidence you're going to have going into certain situations. It's an ongoing process. He's learning how to prepare week in and week out, but his personality's coming forward a little more in terms of speaking up."
As a senior Whitlow led Prattville to the state 6A championship and was even rated as one of Alabama's top dual-threat quarterbacks. But other than seeing his game film, he received minimal interest from 'Bama and Auburn.
Still, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban was aware of Whitlow's skills.
"We looked at him and really thought he was a good player," Saban said. "I think we got a quarterback from someplace else and I can't remember who that was in his class. Then we didn't recruit him, but he's really, really impressed me with the way he's progressed through this season."
Like friends of Kentucky's seven players from Alabama, people back in the state kindly reminded Whitlow through calls and text messages that he's playing they undefeated Crimson Tide. Whitlow was asked when he was younger if was a fan of the Crimson Tide or the rival Auburn Tigers.
He said neither.
"There's not a law where you had to pick a side," Whitlow said. "I just liked football. When they played teams like Florida, of course I'd want (the state of) Alabama to win, but I never really declared a side."
Whitlow expects family loyalty to shift from Alabama to Kentucky this weekend, right down to their clothing.
Asked if his family would be wearing blue, he quickly responded, "They'd better."
AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Ala., contributed to this report.