UK Football

How did Sawyer Smith do in his first UK start? A breakdown of the new QB’s performance.

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Game day: Kentucky vs. Florida

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Thrust into a starting role following Terry Wilson’s season-ending injury last weekend, new Kentucky quarterback Sawyer Smith nearly led the Wildcats to a marquee victory.

The UK junior — in his first season with the Wildcats following a graduate transfer from Troy University during the offseason — made his first start for Kentucky in Saturday night’s Southeastern Conference opener against No. 9 Florida. For most of the game, it looked like UK would come out on top.

Smith completed his first nine passes of the game, then put Kentucky in a position to win at the end, but the Cats fell short in the final minutes. Florida was victorious, 29-21.

Here’s how the new UK quarterback’s night unfolded:

First quarter

Smith didn’t waste any time getting directly involved with UK’s offense, taking the Wildcats’ first play from scrimmage for a 4-yard gain to the left side. He flipped a forward lateral to Lynn Bowden — technically his first complete pass of the game — for a 5-yard gain on the next play, setting up a third-and-1 situation.

Smith mishandled the snap on that play and the ball fell to the turf. He tried to pick it up and continue the play but couldn’t get a hold of it, and Florida jumped on the fumble for a turnover at the UK 31-yard line. The Gators scored on the ensuing possession to take a 7-0 lead.

The Cats’ second possession didn’t start out much better. Smith’s completion to Bowden was called back due to a penalty, and the UK quarterback was then flattened by Florida linebacker Jonathan Greenard for an eight-yard sack.

That set up a third-and-21 for the Cats, and that’s when Smith let loose.

He hit Ahmad Wagner on the sideline for a 23-yard gain and a UK first down. Two running plays later, on third-and-8, Smith found Josh Ali for a 10-yard gain and another first down. The very next play was an 18-yard pass completion to Ali, followed by a 7-yard pass to Bowden.

The quarter ended with two running plays, and the Cats were on their way to their first score.

Smith after one quarter: 5-for-5 for 63 yards

Score: Florida 7, Kentucky 0

Second quarter

A Lynn Bowden rush for no gain to start the quarter set up a third-and-9, and Smith converted again.

The UK quarterback found Ahmad Wagner, who made a circus 24-yard touchdown catch with a Florida defender draped on him to tie the game at 7-all.

A fumble recovery started the Cats’ next drive at their own 46-yard line, and Smith completed his first two passes of that possession. Then, on a third-and-5 play, he scrambled to his right for the first down. Four plays later, Smith converted a quarterback sneak for a 1-yard touchdown to give the Cats a 14-7 lead.

Smith ended up completing his first nine passes of the game (for 119 yards) before throwing an incompletion on his 10th attempt. The Cats’ fourth and final possession of the half ended with a punt.

Smith after one half: 10-for-13 for 128 yards and one TD, plus one rushing TD.

Score: Kentucky 14, Florida 7

Third quarter

Smith got the Wildcats off to another promising drive to start the second half, converting a third-and-1 play with a quarterback sneak and hitting Justin Rigg for a 23-yard pass downfield on the very next play.

Six plays later, Smith tried to force a pass amid pressure and it was intercepted by Shawn Davis, who returned the ball 72 yards and looked like he was heading into the end zone until Smith ran him down and tackled him from behind.

Florida kicked a field goal on the next possession to cut UK’s lead to 14-10.

UK running back Kavosiey Smoke got the Cats’ next possession off to a great start with a 16-yard run, and Smith found Lynn Bowden for a 9-yard pass on the next play. Two plays later, Smith missed a wide-open Bowden down the field that would’ve gone for major UK yardage, but he hit Ahmad Wagner for 21 yards on the play after that. Wagner also drew a 15-yard penalty against Florida on that catch, and that pushed UK in the Florida red zone.

On the very next play, Smith found tight end Keaton Upshaw for a 13-yard touchdown, and the Cats took a 21-10 lead.

Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks was injured and carted off the field on the Gators’ next possession.

On UK’s next drive, the Cats moved down the field once again — thanks in part to a 5-yard scramble by Smith and a 13-yard completion to Bowden — before the third quarter ended with Kentucky in Gators territory.

Smith after three quarters: 17-for-22 for 220 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT and 1 rushing TD.

Score: Kentucky 21, Florida 10

Fourth quarter

The final period started with UK in a fourth-and-1 situation. Kentucky took the ball out of Smith’s hands, going with a Wildcat formation, and AJ Rose was stuffed for a turnover on downs.

Behind backup quarterback Kyle Trask, the Gators scored on their next possession — but failed to convert a two-point conversion — to cut Kentucky’s lead to 21-16.

Smith was 2-for-2 passing on the Cats’ next possession, but one of those plays went for a loss and Kentucky went three-and-out, leading to a 63-yard punt by Max Duffy to pin Florida at its own 4.

After a Florida punt, UK got the ball back on its own 8-yard line with 7:36 left in the game, but Smith threw a deep interception on a miscommunication with Lynn Bowden, and Florida got the ball right back with 6:05 remaining.

The Gators scored a touchdown on their possession, taking a 22-21 lead.

The stage was then set for Smith, who got the ball back on Kentucky’s 25 with 4:11 left in the game.

On first down, Smith found Justin Rigg for a 6-yard gain. Two plays later, he forced a Florida offsides — resulting in a free play — and threw a long ball downfield to Ahmad Wagner, who drew another pass interference call to move the Cats into Florida territory.

Smith hit Bowden for a 21-yard gain on the sideline on the very next play, and that put the Cats inside of kicker Chance Poore’s field goal range with about two minutes left.

Poore missed a 35-yard field goal with 54 seconds left, and Florida scored a touchdown to go up 29-21.

UK got the ball back on its own 25 but had just one timeout left and only 33 seconds on the clock. The Cats’ possession — and the game — ended with an interception on Smith’s last-ditch pass at the buzzer.

Smith’s final stats: 23-for-35 for 267 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs and 1 rushing TD.

Final score: Florida 29, Kentucky 21

Ben Roberts covers UK basketball, football and other sports for the Lexington Herald-Leader and has specialized in UK basketball recruiting for the past several years. He also maintains the Next Cats recruiting blog, which features the latest news on the Wildcats’ recruiting efforts.
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