Maxwell Smith almost had forgotten that his shoulder was ever injured.
The redshirt sophomore quarterback had stopped thinking about the previous injuries to his throwing shoulder that caused him to miss games in his two previous seasons.
"My shoulder's been good, real good actually," he said after Kentucky's 27-13 loss to No. 7 Louisville on Saturday.
But one play brought his shoulder back into focus and forced him to the sideline in the third quarter.
"As I went forward, it was just jerked back real hard," he explained. "That was really it I think."
Whatever it was, it caused him to lose much of the velocity in his throw and caused trainers to sit him the rest of the game with a little more than seven minutes to go in the third quarter and UK driving.
On the next play, backup Jalen Whitlow came in and threw an interception.
Smith went through a battery of sideline tests, including passing drills, but he struggled.
"I could throw the ball, but I didn't have enough velocity on it," he said. "So I just felt like I wasn't the best choice for the team. I didn't have velocity on my passes, so Jalen went in. But I feel like if anything were to happen to him that I could have went back in. But I just had no velocity on any of my throws."
Smith, who completed nine of 20 attempts for 109 yards in his limited time, didn't think the injury would keep him out for the season, nor even the next game in two weeks against Florida.
"I'm going to be fine, and I'll be ready to go for our next opponent," he said.
Losing Smith was a game-changer for Kentucky.
"Obviously when Maxwell got hurt there — we felt like we had some shots down the field we could take advantage of — and when Maxwell got hurt, we kind of changed our game plan a little bit," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said.
■ Early in the first half, UK lost defensive tackle Donte Rumph to his own shoulder injury. The senior, who had shoulder surgery in the off-season, tried to come back after the initial injury, but came back for the second half out of uniform.
'Our best threat right now'
Between his 134 kickoff return yards and his 48 yards on six catches, Javess Blue had 100 more all-purpose yards than any other UK player. The junior-college transfer is turning into that sort of guy for Kentucky.
"He's a big– play guy," Stoops said. "Again, I think he's getting better and better. He's so new here; he missed all summer. He's getting better. He's definitely got the skills that we're looking for."
His coordinator said UK's offense is going to lean on him more in coming games.
"He played well, made some plays," Brown said. "And we need him to. He's our best threat right now. There's no question."
Blue said he's getting more comfortable with each catch.
"I'm really picking it up during practice and in the game," Blue said. "A catch is a catch and I'm going to fight to get my yards, make tackles and break plays."
Drops, drops, more drops
Brown called the dropped passes an "epidemic" in the spring. It seemed all but cleared up in fall camp and much of this young season, but there were at least six drops by Cats receivers against Louisville.
That's too many for the Kentucky coaches.
"Those are drive killers," Stoops said. "There were some shots in there early, even a screen, I forget who dropped it, but we had a screen. That was a big play at a critical time."
When one player drops a pass, it spreads like the plague through the offense, Brown said.
"Maybe guys start thinking about it and it gets in your head," he said. "But at the same point, you've got to fight through that stuff, you know what I mean? You have to fight through it."
When Stoops got on campus, he talked about Kentucky being a base 4-3 defense, but being as "multiple as we can within the scheme."
Louisville got a taste of that Saturday when UK played as many as five linemen at times, including basically moving freshman defensive end Jason Hatcher to a linebacker position.
"We just wanted to mix things up a little bit, get a little bigger, have some different looks, get Jason (Hatcher) on the field," Stoops said. It was just a different look, different defense. Gave us a chance. I thought it gave us some stops early."
It definitely caught Louisville's offense off guard.
"We were pretty much surprised," running back Dominique Brown said. "They had five down linemen the whole game and we weren't expecting that. We were expecting three or something like that."
Avery Williamson, who led both teams with 15 tackles, said it was similar to the defensive scheme UK employed in the season opener against Western Kentucky, but much more effective, especially in the first half when the Cats held Louisville to 62 yards rushing on 20 carries.
"We just fit it a lot better," he said of the coverage gaps. "We knew exactly what we needed to do. We still have some breakdowns, communication wasn't as good, but we've got to go in the film room and fix what we messed up on."
If your particular glass is half full, you'll note that the announced crowd of 65,445 at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday was the largest since 2011.
If your particular glass is half empty, you'll note that the crowd was the smallest one to see a Louisville game at this venue since the expansion in 1997.
If your particular glass is tilted, you're freshman Jojo Kemp, who liked how loud the crowd was.
"The fans love, they love this game," Kemp said. "I could hear some in the back screaming their freakin' hearts out. I could tell (from) the atmosphere and the energy that it was a very important game, and I'm just sorry that we had to let 'em down."
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.