Kentucky looks to Maxwell Smith to breathe life into 'Air Raid'

jsmith3@herald-leader.comSeptember 6, 2013 

It's been nearly a year since Maxwell Smith sent this text message to his Kentucky football teammates before their home opener:

"Let's get 50."

The sophomore quarterback meant 50 points, which UK nearly got against Kent State last season, but then through injury, youth and countless other issues, the Cats' offense struggled.

Before Smith went down for the season, he amassed 975 yards of offense and threw for eight touchdowns. His fewest total yards were the 280 at Louisville in the season opener.

Smith nearly got UK to that 50 points against Kent State last September, putting up a career-high 354 passing yards, in a 47-14 victory.

Kentucky's new coaches opted to go with dual-threat quarterback Jalen Whitlow in their opener against Western Kentucky last week. They inserted Smith in the fourth quarter of that loss and saw enough plays made and passes completed to name him the starter on Saturday against Miami (Ohio).

"Every week, you know and I know, we're going to do whatever it takes to win the game and prepare to win the game," head coach Mark Stoops said in explaining the switch. "With that being said, you have to build on who you are."

And who Stoops wants UK to be is an Air Raid style offense. It's why he brought offensive coordinator Neal Brown back home to run it. It's why the sirens sounded at Commonwealth Stadium in the spring.

It's why Kentucky has been able to recruit high-level offensive talent.

It's who UK hopes to be when it takes the field this weekend.

Both Brown and Stoops had broad grins when asked what happened to the Air Raid against Western Kentucky. UK ran the ball four more times than it threw it.

The Cats managed 419 yards of offense, with 203 yards coming through the air (125 of those yards were in the fourth quarter under Smith).

It was the fewest passing yards for a Brown team since 2011 when his Texas Tech team was upset by Iowa State. The Red Raiders managed just 18 completions in that loss, the same as UK in the loss to WKU.

With so many young players at wide receiver, so many new starters on the offensive line and veteran running backs, he tried to go with what would win.

"We felt like early in the game, what we did on Saturday gave us our best chance. And it did," Brown explained. "We didn't play like we wanted to (but) bottom line is it's 24-17 and we had two drives to take the lead, you know, coming out of the third quarter. And we didn't take advantage of those. If we executed better, who knows?

"Then Max came in the game, and we threw the ball almost every snap there in the fourth quarter and we had some success. So we'll see."

Stoops backed his offensive coordinator, noting that UK will continue to do what it believes will get wins.

"That's why people are saying, 'Are we Air Raid? Are we running?'" Stoops said. "Hey man, we're trying to win. We're trying to do whatever we have to do to win games, to put our players in a position to be successful on all sides of the ball.'"

That's why Smith is back and talk of the Air Raid offense is alive again.

He's ready to go for 50 again. He's ready to start having some fun.

"Everybody wants to get in the end zone," Smith said this week. "The harder we work and the more success we have in practice, the more fun these guys are going to have out there: scoring touchdowns, winning games, competing. That's what we've got to do."

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

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