Kentucky football notes: Smith revels in touchdown that wasn't

jsmith3@herald-leader.comApril 26, 2014 

UK quarterback Patrick Towles throws during UK's 2014 Blue White Game at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, April 26, 2014. Photo by Matt Goins

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There will be many discussions about position battles this summer.

But the debate that may rage on in the Kentucky locker room well into the fall will be whether or not Za'Darius Smith scored a touchdown on his interception of Patrick Towles during Saturday's Blue-White Spring Game.

The defensive end will say until the end of time that the whistle blew unnecessarily and too quickly, saying he was down at the 17-yard line where he had Towles hanging from his waist.

Like all quarterbacks, Towles was in a black no-contact jersey, which meant officials were told to blow the whistle to keep him from getting injured.

When reminded that he was ruled down, Smith frowned.

"That's crazy man," he said. "Felt great even though they blew the whistle, I didn't pay attention to that. I just heard the crowd get loud once I did it."

Towles said he regretted the interception but didn't want to compound the mistake by getting injured on the play.

But he couldn't just let Smith march the ball into the end zone.

"I figured, you know, I had a black (no-contact) jersey on and he probably wasn't expecting me to knock him down and hit him really hard," Towles said. "So I figured I'd take it easy on him and just kind of grab him. I did get a whistle; he did not score."

Smith's trip to the end zone might not have counted, but he felt good about how close he got.

"I told myself throughout the whole spring that I wanted to make a play like that," said Smith, who had four tackles, including 1.5 for loss and a sack. "Today was the day that I made it and it felt great. I wish I could have gotten the touchdown, though."

Those plays are the kind Coach Mark Stoops wants to see from his senior defensive end. He said it was a good play and blame couldn't all be put on Towles. In live game action, UK would've cut-blocked that end to try and avoid the interception.

"He's a big guy and he's put on a lot of weight, and he's always been a technician, but you just — again, that maturity, a year older, that experience, just to be a playmaker," Stoops said of Smith's progress.

A good miss?

Austin MacGinnis had an entire redshirt season to think about that first kick in a Kentucky jersey. And maybe that was too long because UK's new starting place-kicker went out and badly missed on his first field-goal attempt from 45 yards.

Special teams coach Craig Naivar said jitters played a part.

"Getting in the stadium, the crowd, all those sorts of things," he said. "He'd only kicked once inside the stadium and from being in a practice field to being in a scrimmage to being in a game is a whole different world."

But if there's such a thing as a good miss, Naivar said that was one because MacGinnis made the next one from 40 yards before the half.

"He missed that one and the next one he came back and was solid," Naivar said. "That's really good for a young kicker. In the grand scheme of things, I think it was good that happened for him to miss one, come back, go through his process and then hit the next one. He didn't let the first mistake linger and make more."

Robinson battling back

Demarco Robinson ended last season on dangerously thin ice, getting suspended for the final two games.

At the start of spring, Coach Mark Stoops said the senior wide receiver was "earning his way back on the team."

After the Blue-White Spring Game on Saturday, it sounded as though Robinson had done enough to stick around for his final season.

"I'm really proud of the effort that he's made off the field," Stoops said of Robinson. "He's not perfect. Demarco has a lot of work to do in certain areas, but he's trying and he's battling and I've been proud that he's really improved in a lot of ways."

On the field, he showed signs of being a leader, too, with eight catches for 115 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown grab late in the game.

At a position with some attrition and injury this spring, he provided some stability.

Crowd, Cat Walk impress

It wasn't quite the 50,831 from the season before, but the announced spring game crowd of 35,117 at the reduced-capacity Commonwealth Stadium was still the second-highest in school history. The previous high was 20,325 in 1987.

This crowd was the seventh-largest in the Southeastern Conference this spring behind Alabama (73,506), Auburn (70,465), Tennessee (68,548), Georgia (46,073), South Carolina (36,412) and Florida (35,834).

Louisville's spring game crowd was 27,500 a couple of weekends ago.

Whatever the number for UK this season, the support was appreciated by the coaches.

"It was like an in-season Cat Walk today," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "I mean, they were lined (up), it was backed up. And the crowd in the game was terrific. And that shows people, that shows recruits that people are serious about football here."

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

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