UK football

Kentucky coaches say Max Smith ready for starting role

Phillips won't rule out Cobbins as backup

jsmith3@herald-leader.comNovember 4, 2011 

Max Smith is going to get his starting shot.

University of Kentucky football coach Joker Phillips announced after Thursday's practice that the true freshman will be the Cats' starting quarterback against Mississippi on Saturday.

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound California native earned the start after junior Morgan Newton continued to be hobbled by a high ankle sprain.

If the game had been played on Thursday, Phillips said Newton, the starter for the first eight games of the season, would not have been able to play at all.

There's been some improvement to the right ankle since he injured it last Saturday, but not enough for him to practice this week.

That makes Smith, who excited fans with his performance in a losing effort to Mississippi State last weekend, the starter.

Smith, who completed 26 of 33 passes for 174 yards against MSU, is ready, his coaches said.

"It's amazing what making a couple of plays does for a guy," Phillips said.

Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders joked earlier this week that Smith, who was off-limits to the media, might have played well enough to get a date after the game.

"It's amazing when you play well at quarterback, you look a little better when you go to class the next day," Sanders said.

Sanders also said Smith will have his share of "growing pains.

"There's going to be mistakes made, but he's also doing some good things," Sanders said on Tuesday. "Hopefully, he takes another step and stays on the right track toward becoming a good player."

The quarterback has digested some new portions of the playbook this week in preparation for the Rebels, who own the Southeastern Conference's second-worst pass defense

The Rebels, who have eight interceptions, are allowing opponents to complete 62.6 percent of their passes this season. They are allowing an average of 212 yards in the air and 7.6 yards per pass.

If Smith were to get injured Saturday, Phillips did not rule out putting in true freshman Bookie Cobbins.

"He's willing to play," Phillips said. "If we decide we have to play him, we'll play him."

Cobbins has said he would be willing to play the final four games if needed, even though he would lose the opportunity to be redshirted.

"Four games at quarterback is a lot of snaps for you," Phillips argued. "Who's to say he's going to play next year? ... Anything can happen next year. I'm not worried about that and he's not worried about that. I've spoken to him."

If it were an emergency situation, Newton would be able to help some.

"If we had to put Morgan in to hand off we would," Phillips said. "If it's an emergency and we've got to play him, we will."

Different returners

A Kentucky return game that has struggled this season will also get some new faces because of injuries.

Punt returner Randall Burden has been sidelined this week with a left foot injury. He was in a boot Wednesday and has not practiced. Phillips said he expects the senior cornerback to play on defense Saturday.

In Burden's punt-return spot will be receiver Gene McCaskill, who has been limited this season while returning from a knee surgery. Daylen Hall also will be an option.

Senior Winston Guy, who has a cast on his hand, will be replaced on kickoff returns by freshman defensive back Ashely Lowery.

Other injury updates

Running back Raymond Sanders (ankle) probably is out for Saturday after not being able to practice Thursday. CoShik Williams (foot strain), who started at running back last weekend, did practice and will play. Junior linebacker Ridge Wilson sat out of practice Thursday with an eye infection.

Bird honored as legend

Corbin native Rodger Bird, an All-American at Kentucky, will be honored as a league legend at the SEC Legends Dinner on Dec. 2.

Bird, known as the "Corbin Comet," racked up 3,333 all-purpose yards as a Cat from 1963-65.

Bird was a first-round draft choice of the Oakland Raiders, where he played six seasons as a defensive back.

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