Kentucky's Smith learning expectations of starting QB

Freshman can do more, Sanders says

jsmith3@herald-leader.comNovember 10, 2011 

Max Smith's back is probably a tad sore from all of the congratulatory pats it has received this week after his 283 yards and two touchdowns against Mississippi.

But those pats end when the Kentucky quarterback puts on his pads and he's within earshot of offensive coordinator Randy Sanders.

"He gets humbled when he comes back in here," head coach Joker Phillips said when asked about Smith getting too high off of his early success. "Coach Sanders has done a good job of keeping him level-headed."

Smith's Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week title doesn't mean much to Sanders.

"Coach Sanders hasn't patted him on the back," Phillips said.

Sanders does quite the opposite.

He points out every flaw.

This week, the coach estimated that UK and Smith ran nearly 70 plays against the Rebels last Saturday.

"(Smith) probably did exactly what he was supposed to do maybe 15 of them," Sanders said. "The other 52, we've got things to work on."

This criticism is nothing new to Smith, who admitted that his position coach takes some getting used to.

"His style is something you can't get ready for, but I came in and, everything he says, I listen," Smith said.

What is that style exactly?

"Coach says what he means, and that's how it's got to be," he said. "I've got to take the criticism and turn it into something positive every day. ... He's not going to be soft, he's going to tell it like it is."

Sanders has to get Smith prepared, the coach said, pointing out that the quarterback is the one person on the field who can do two plays incorrectly and cost his team the game.

And Smith is going on the road to play Vanderbilt, which is second in the league in interceptions with 15 this season. (Although the Commodores have had only one in their last five games.)

Vandy certainly has Smith's attention.

"They've caused a lot of turnovers this year, caused a lot of havoc in the passing game for a lot of different teams," he said. "They're very sound defensively."

Smith has had plenty of people help him along this week, including Morgan Newton.

Newton, who despite losing his starting job to the freshman with the big arm, has been in Smith's ear at practice pointing out what he's missing.

Phillips said it has been nice to see Newton on the sideline between series helping out the freshman.

"Morgan is an unselfish kid," Phillips said of the junior, who is still listed as questionable with a high ankle sprain. "The only thing he wants is, he wants this football team to do well, and he wants Max to do well."

It's what Sanders expects from his quarterbacks.

"You always try to teach your team and your quarterbacks that it's team first," he said. "Obviously, Morgan's injury made it much easier for Max to get the job. Max did a good job with his opportunity last week and, hopefully, Morgan can keep working and keep doing his thing in the training room and improving, but it's good to see Morgan be a team guy and do what he can to help the team."

Smith and Newton developed a bond when the 6-foot-4 freshman from California arrived on UK's campus early to practice with the team before last season's bowl game.

Phillips said this week that he was "amazed how close they got in a short period of time."

Newton, who has not been made available to media this week, has been a big help, Smith said.

"Me and Morgan, we're good friends," Smith said. "On and off the field, we're still friends. Nothing's changed. ...

"I appreciate everything Morgan's doing for me right now."

Injury report

Phillips' list of injured players has gotten shorter this week with running back Raymond Sanders (ankle), wide receiver Matt Roark (foot sprain), and defensive tackles Donte Rumph (ankle) and Mister Cobble (ankle) all practicing Wednesday.

Phillips said getting Rumph and Cobble back on defense is important, saying those two "have really changed the way people try to attack us now. You can't attack us up the middle. Those guys are big blocks that hold the point of attack."

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