UK football notes: Smith ends spring on sour note

Herald-Leader Staff WriterApril 28, 2012 

Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips talked with quarterback Maxwell Smith during the Blue-White Game. Quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders said the sophomore rushed some throws.

HERALD-LEADER

It's going to be a long couple of weeks for Maxwell Smith.

The sophomore quarterback will be waiting at least two more weeks before he gets a chance to meet with Kentucky offensive coordinator Randy Sanders and go over footage from the Blue-White Game last week.

"I'm not looking forward to watching this film," said Smith, who didn't have a terrible spring game. He threw for two touchdowns — including a pretty 69-yard pass to Demarco Robinson — and completed 64 percent of his 45 attempts.

But looming large in Smith's mind were the two interceptions he threw. The first one was tipped by the defense, but the second was just Smith trying to force something that wasn't there.

"I made a couple of bad decisions," Smith said. "I need to be smart, take it short instead of trying to force the ball that I tried to force."

He will get no argument from Sanders.

"I was pretty hard on him during the scrimmage," Sanders said. "I thought he did some things out there today that I had not seen all spring and I was really disappointed in that. I thought he was trying to play fast — and I've been trying to get him to play fast, but don't rush — a few times today he was rushing for whatever reason."

But Sanders had some "good news" for his young quarterback.

"I go out recruiting next week for three weeks," Sanders said. "So he's got a little bit of time to get ready for it."

Or is that a bad thing, Sanders wondered aloud.

The quarterbacks coach then told a story from his childhood about leaving his grandparents' house in trouble and hearing his father say he was "going to give me a whoopin' when we got home."

After the seven-hour ride, Sanders thought maybe his dad had forgotten about it, but that turned out not to be the case.

There probably won't be any kind of physical punishment in this for Smith, though.

Sanders said he was pleased with the progression of the player who came in as a true freshman and played well in three starts for UK last season after Morgan Newton went out with an injured shoulder.

"Everybody has days when the game seems like it happens in slow motion and other days when the game seems like it happens fast," Sanders said.

Smith "kind of played like the game was happening fast today. He tried to force a few balls in there, get first downs. That's all well and good if it's open, but if it's not open, you've got to lay the thing off," Sanders continued.

"Nobody wants to punt and sometimes the hardest thing in the world as a quarterback is knowing that you have to lay it off and punt."

This wasn't the type of poor decision-making the coaches have come to expect from Smith, who otherwise had an impressive spring.

"He's made a huge stride from where we left off last season," Sanders said. "Huge strides from where he was against Georgia. There are still a lot of things he can't do and I'm going to be as hard on him as I need to be for his level."

Where is that level exactly?

Well, Sanders put it in math terms.

"Right now, we're past Algebra 1 and we're approaching Calculus. We're in chapter one of Calculus. We've got Calculus to get through and then (Trigonometry). Once we get there, I'll like where we're at."

Smith was down on himself after the final scrimmage of the spring season. But the sophomore admitted he's better off now than he was at this time last season, just coming in and learning the system.

"I do feel encouraged," he said. "I have a good understanding of the offense, a lot better than I did last year. I feel good, but we've got a lot of work to do. We can't stop. We could be a really good team, but it's about how much we'll dedicate ourselves to working hard."

Quarterback questions?

Coach Joker Phillips made it clear that Maxwell Smith would be the starter if the season started in April or May, but that was easy to say with no huge competition for the quarterback job in the 15 days of prep for the fall.

The Cats' second-string QB was walk-on Jacob Russell.

Former starter Morgan Newton was limited this spring as he rehabbed after off-season surgery on his throwing shoulder.

(After the final practice before the spring game, Newton was on the practice fields throwing passes of 40-plus yards.)

Then there's the addition of freshman phenom Patrick Towles later this summer. Towles spent part of his spring break on campus for spring practice, but he hasn't been able to participate.

The 6-foot-5, 242-pound QB from Highlands has mind-boggling career numbers, passing for 7,429 yards and 73 touchdowns as well as running for 1,718 yards and 38 scores while leading the Bluebirds to a 38-1 record and three straight titles as a starter.

UK's QB coach made it sound like the job is still up for grabs.

"It will be nice to get Morgan (Newton) back because Morgan's played in some big games and we've won big games with him at quarterback," Sanders said. "Max is coming along well. I'm really pleased with Jacob Russell."

But Towles will get more than a look before any decisions are made in August.

"Patrick's going to get his chance," Sanders continued. "Doesn't matter if you're a freshman, senior, been here two years, the best player's going to play. If he proves to be the best player, then he'll play."

Phillips was asked if having Towles around this spring put any added pressure on Smith. The coach said it doesn't necessarily work like that.

"Max will tell you he's going to teach Patrick Towles everything he needs to know about our offense this summer," Phillips said. "A true competitor wants to compete at a high level. What's going to push him? Someone staring over his shoulder."

Having Towles available for part of spring means there will be less for him to have to learn this summer, Smith said. But it's important to share the information available, the sophomore said.

"I'm sure Peyton Manning is telling his backup everything he can," Smith said. "It's not like I'm going to hide anything from him. Everything I learned I learned from Coach Sanders. So there's really nothing to hide."

Injury updates

Kentucky managed to stay relatively injury-free in the spring, which was a gift, Phillips said afterward.

"We have nobody that has to rehab from now until fall camp," he said. "That's really, really big, really key, that we don't have that problem."

There are still several players who are rehabbing injuries from the fall, who didn't get as much spring action as the coaches would have wanted, though.

Some injured notables include: quarterback Newton (shoulder), defensive lineman Collins Ukwu (shoulder), and running back Josh Clemons (knee).

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com, ukwomen.bloginky.com

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