Kentucky's starting quarterback might be a game-time decision

Phillips might wait until game day to pick a quarterback

jsmith3@herald-leader.comNovember 1, 2011 

Don't expect any confetti parades or dramatic announcements about Kentucky's quarterback position this week.

It's unlikely Coach Joker Phillips will make any kind of decision about whether to start junior Morgan Newton or freshman Maxwell Smith against Mississippi until late this week.

It may even be a game-time decision.

"We'll probably wait to decide who the starter is," Phillips told the media Monday afternoon.

"We need time to digest all the things that we'll be looking for, so we'll probably wait till maybe Friday or even Saturday morning."

The UK coach said both Newton, the starter for the first eight games this season, and Smith will get equal repetitions in practice this week.

No exact criteria was laid out by the Cats' coach, but he said his staff would be looking for "who can get us in the end zone, who we feel can get us in the end zone, who is better prepared to execute the game plan that we put in."

The quarterback quandary was created Saturday against Mississippi State when Newton, a 6-foot-4 junior from Carmel, Ind., left early with injuries to his throwing shoulder and his ankle.

Phillips said Newton's shoulder is OK and that his right ankle has not swelled much and "should be fine," but it will continue to be monitored.

Smith, a true freshman, replaced Newton and left a favorable impression with the coaches, completing 26 of 33 passes for 174 yards with no interceptions.

Kentucky's 29 completions against MSU were its most this season.

Smith led UK on two scoring drives in the second half and was able to move the offense successfully.

"So proud of him," Phillips said of Smith's performance in a tough situation. "He'll get better. He'll only get better with experience and time."

Smith's 26 completions were more than Newton has had in any game this season except for his 27 versus Louisville. Other than that loss against the Cardinals, Newton hasn't had more than 16 completions in a game this season.

Don't expect Newton to pout about the midseason competition, Phillips said.

The coach expects his starter will compete for the spot. "If you're any type of competitor — and I think Morgan is a big-time competitor — you want the competition," Phillips said.

"I can tell you this: When Max Smith was in the game on the sideline, I went over to try to find Morgan, and he's sitting beside Max and talking to him. ... So a guy who doesn't want the competition would have said, 'Hey, you're on your own, big fellow.' But Morgan was trying to help him, help this football team."

The knock on Smith, a 6-4, 220-pounder from Granada Hills, Calif., seems to be his difficulty making reads and protecting himself.

"That's the thing that we have to get him up to speed, because last week he took some unnecessary shots that he didn't have to take if he changed the protection from one side to the other," Phillips said.

Keeping Smith in one piece will be especially important if he's the lone healthy quarterback.

"If Max is the guy, with Morgan being gimpy, you have to worry about him going down also," Phillips reiterated.

Fans, media and Ole Miss coaches won't be the only ones trying to guess whom UK's starting QB will be. There will be inquiring minds in the UK locker room, too.

"We're on edge like everyone else," said senior wide receiver Matt Roark, who had a career-best 13 catches for 116 yards against the Bulldogs.

"We talk about it and try to figure out what everyone thinks about it. We try to figure out what the coaches are going to do because you know they're not going to tell us until the last minute. So we'll just be trying to read the coaching staff."

Injury updates

Raymond Sanders (high ankle sprain) will practice Tuesday and fellow running back CoShik Williams (mild foot sprain) should be back, Phillips said.

Defensive tackle Donte Rumph has a bruised knee and will be back to practice by Wednesday.

Phillips also said defensive tackle Mister Cobble (shoulder) is "better this week than he was last week." Fullback D.J. Warren (shoulder) also came out of the MSU game fine.

Vandy game time set

Kentucky's game at Vanderbilt on Nov. 12 has been set for a 12:21 p.m. kickoff on the SEC Network (WKYT-27 in Lexington).

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