Mark Stoops knew he had his work cut out when he took over as Kentucky's coach this season. There was simply not enough talent on hand to expect many wins in one of the most grueling stretches in school history -- the four-game run starting in mid-September where Kentucky would face Louisville, Florida, South Carolina and defending BCS champion Alabama.
The Wildcats (1-5, 0-3 SEC) were actually fairly competitive in the first three games of that stretch -- and especially in a scrappy 35-28 loss to South Carolina two weekends ago -- but Saturday's 48-7 loss to Alabama was disappointing on several fronts. Not only did the Wildcats lose quarterback Jalen Whitlow to an ankle injury, but they failed to even put up much of a fight against the Crimson Tide, who outgained them 372 yards to 62 in the first half.
That's how it goes with most rebuilding projects, and Stoops certainly has one on his hands at Kentucky. The new staff has generated some excitement on the recruiting trail and within the Kentucky fanbase, but they are probably a solid signing class or two away from what Rich Brooks had built several years back, when the Wildcats were regularly scaring the SEC's big boys and making annual bowl appearances. This season, however, Stoops' club would do well to improve upon last season's 2-10 mark.
Offensive MVP: Jalen Whitlow. Just before going down in the second possession the Alabama game with the left ankle injury, the sophomore quarterback had finally seized the starting job after splitting time with Maxwell Smith early in the season. Whitlow was one of the stars of Kentucky's resilient performance against South Carolina, completing 17 of 24 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing 17 times for 69 yards and a score. Overall, he is third on the team with 238 rushing yards and a team-high three touchdowns and has completed 66 percent of his passes (50-for-76) for 499 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. X-rays on the ankle were negative, so Kentucky fans no doubt hope that the injury will not keep Whitlow out for long, as he was starting to help the Wildcats' offense begin to function more consistently.
Defensive MVP: Avery Williamson. The SEC's leading tackler is a fairly easy choice here. With 64 total stops, Williamson's average of 10.7 tackles is not only tops in the conference -- it's 10th nationally. The senior linebacker finished second in the league with 135 stops a season ago, so this production is not particularly surprising. But it's definitely necessary. Kentucky's defensive two-deep is loaded with underclassmen and newcomers, so having a presence like Williamson at middle linebacker certainly helps stabilize the Wildcats' defense. He registered a game-high 13 tackles, half a tackle for a loss and recovered a T.J. Yeldon fumble at the Kentucky 2 on Saturday, or the loss to Alabama could have been even uglier than it was.