It's not going to be an easy prep week for Mississippi defensive coaches.
It probably won't be for Kentucky's offensive coaches either as uncertainty swirls around the Cats' quarterbacks.
Depending how practice goes this week and how various injuries heal, Saturday's game plan could feature UK's Morgan Newton back under center or backup Maxwell Smith or a combination of both.
"We'll let them compete this week and come up with who we think gives us the best chance to win," Coach Joker Phillips said during his weekly Sunday teleconference.
"We'll give them both an opportunity to run with the ones and the twos and see who handles the game plan the best and figure out who gives us the best chance to win."
Newton went out early in the Cats' 28-16 loss to Mississippi State on Saturday with a sore shoulder and an ankle sprain. The junior quarterback left the game after completing three of his five pass attempts for 15 yards. Smith, who had managed seven completions and two interceptions in spotty action in four games so far this season, led UK the rest of the way.
He completed all but seven of his 33 pass attempts for 174 yards. He didn't throw for a touchdown, but he didn't cough up the ball, either.
Smith did enough to create a quarterback query.
"The thing that Max did was separate himself in the game," Phillips said. "Most of the time, you have to close the gap in practice. (His play Saturday) gives him consideration to be the starter."
Smith has not been able to separate himself in practice.
After the loss, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders said he wants to see the freshman as focused in preparation leading up to the game as he is on game day.
Phillips wants to see that, too.
"He just needs to make sure he understands all the protections, protect himself, know where his problems are," he said of Smith. "A couple of the hits last night that he took, they were on him. It happens to young quarterbacks. He'll get it with experience."
The coach explained that there is a competition for that position — and the others, as well — every week.
"Everybody thinks we're not giving guys a chance," Phillips said. "If you're practicing, you're getting a chance."
In practice each week, the first- and second-string players get snaps on a rotating basis, with the first-teamer getting six snaps and the second-stringer getting four.
Smith got his usual reps last week, but said some extra time spent with his quarterback coaches helped him against the Bulldogs.
"I felt a lot better and a lot more relaxed," the freshman quarterback said after the game, conceding that he started off a "little shaky" but managed to find his rhythm late in the game.
Behind Smith's 26 completions, UK had a season-best 29 passes for 189 yards, which was its second highest total of the season so far.
Smith, like Newton, is banged up, too. Specifically after taking the big shots Phillips referenced.
"Anyone who's played in an SEC game realizes how physical it is, especially when you're playing at quarterback," Phillips said. "He's just banged up, bruised up, and we've got to get him healed up."
When Phillips was asked Sunday whether UK has considered playing the two quarterbacks situationally or alternating them, the coach didn't rule it out.
"We're considering everything right now," he said. "We've got to figure out which one gives us the best chance to win the game. If we think both of them do, then we'll play both of them. We'll see how they prepare this week."
Stopping big plays
After watching film and seeing Kentucky's defense give up pass plays of 50 yards and 40 yards, and several more of 20-plus yards, Phillips said individual defenders have got to get better at making plays on the ball, among other things.
"Mississippi State guys made some really tough catches," he said. "Our guys have got to do a better job playing the football, understanding where your help is at and playing the football."
Rumph, Mosley OK
Two other Cats were banged up and had to leave the game versus Mississippi State, but defensive tackle Donte Rumph (hyperextended knee) and cornerback Anthony Mosley (hit in the chest) should be available to practice this week.