John Clay: Maxwell Smith leads uptempo offense in strong showing

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistSeptember 8, 2012 

  • Tennessee at Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30

    TV: ESPNU

    Records: Kentucky 2-9 (0-7 SEC); Tennessee 4-7 (1-6)

Last year, Kentucky didn't have an offense.

Led by Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy, Kentucky had a decent defense in 2011, but one of the weakest offensive attacks in all of the Football Bowl Subdivision.

This year, it's OK to have an assortment of doubts about the Kentucky defense, but it's safe to say that Joker Phillips' Cats have the makings of a robust offense.

They proved that on Saturday night before a crowd of 48,346 at Commonwealth Stadium, whipping Kent State 47-14.

Kentucky rolled up 539 yards of total offense, more yards in a single game than any game last year. The high then was 445 against Jacksonville State.

It was UK's highest yardage total since 580 against Vanderbilt in 2010.

True, we're only two games into the season, one of them a loss. True, it was a Mid-American Conference team that the Cats rolled on Saturday night, and one that went all of 5-7 a year ago.

And yet, let's just compare this offense to a year ago.

Remember, when Kentucky didn't have an offense a year ago.

Kentucky didn't have a quarterback like Maxwell Smith last year. OK, the Cats did have Maxwell Smith last year, but it was not this Maxwell Smith.

A year ago, Smith was a true freshman from California feeling his way into the college experience. He even started three games, but you wouldn't say he was the established starter. Now, Smith is a smooth sophomore whose quick release and pinpoint accuracy fit perfectly into the uptempo offense implemented by offensive coordinator Randy Sanders.

Smith ended up completing 30 of 39 passes for 354 yards and four touchdowns.

A surprising 11 of those passes for 100 yards went to Aaron Boyd, the redshirt senior from Henry Clay who was the invisible man his first four years on campus.

This year, new offense, better quarterback, good system, and Boyd has become a major factor in the Cats' passing attack. He made his first start count.

Boyd isn't a one-man show, either. After 11 different receivers caught the ball in the first game, Smith spread the wealth again. He completed passes to 10 different receivers.

One of those was true freshman DeMarcus Sweat, who took a short pass and burst down the sideline for a 56-yard touchdown.

It was the same burst that had UK coaches smiling during fall camp.

CoShik Williams, the team's top running back, missed the game with back spasms. No problem.

Raymond Sanders and Jonathan George filled in admirably. Sanders had a 67-yard touchdown run. George had a 38-yard TD run.

Mike Summers' young offensive line did a good job of both protecting Smith — the sophomore's quick release helps — and opening holes for the backs.

Even last Sunday, in that 32-14 loss at Louisville, Kentucky moved the ball, amassing nearly 400 yards in total offense. The Cats couldn't finish drives. They either stalled or turned over the ball, losing two fumbles in Louisville territory, one inside the Cards' 5-yard line.

Those didn't make all that much difference in the final outcome at Papa John's. The Kentucky defense couldn't stop the Cardinals' ground game. Louisville ran all over the Cats, from the initial 99-yard drive until U of L Coach Charlie Strong was kind enough to pull quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the third quarter.

And Kentucky's rush defense had its problems against Kent State, allowing 182 yards on the ground. The Golden Flashes went 75 yards on the opening drive of the third quarter to cut the home team's lead to 17-14.

After that, however, the Kentucky offense exploded, scoring 30 second-half points.

And at no time last season did the UK offense ever explode.

Last year, the offense was a dud.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service