UK Football

He’s still ‘banged up,’ but Kentucky wants Sawyer Smith to start at QB

Sawyer Smith didn’t throw at all during the University of Kentucky’s open week, but the Wildcats are moving forward with the intent to start him at quarterback when Arkansas visits Lexington on Saturday.

Whether that plan holds up could remain a mystery until game time. The coaching staff got its first gander at Smith’s arm in practice Monday afternoon.

“The word I got from our trainer here this morning was that he feels significantly better,” Stoops said during his weekly news conference. “So that will be the plan. We’ll see. I’m not trying to withhold any information on you guys. It just is what it is.”

Stoops continued to describe Smith as “banged up.” The graduate transfer from Troy suffered a wrist injury against Florida and a shoulder injury at Mississippi State; a third injury — to a “lower extremity” — was mentioned early last week but Stoops said that Smith is feeling better with that one.

Lynn Bowden, Kentucky’s top receiver, took extended reps at quarterback with the first team last week. Whether or not Smith starts, it’s expected that Bowden will get a few more direct snaps against the Razorbacks.

Bowden has thrown the ball four times this season, completing three passes for 39 yards; that includes a 32-yard completion to incumbent starter Terry Wilson in UK’s 38-17 win over Eastern Michigan, during which Wilson suffered a season-ending knee injury. Bowden has rushed for 99 yards on 13 carries and accumulated 348 yards on 30 receptions.

Bowden hasn’t shied away from the possibility of playing quarterback full time for the Wildcats. On Monday, he changed his profile picture on Twitter to an image of him at Warren G. Harding High School, where he played the position as a prep star.

“Any great player wants the game to go through him and the ball to go through him, so what better way than quarterback?” Stoops said. “You touch it every snap. So that doesn’t surprise me. Any playmaker wants the ball and wants the game to go through him.”

If Bowden is needed as UK’s main man under center he’d, almost certainly, no longer be returning kickoffs and punts. He has combined for 11 returns this year — three punts and eight kickoffs — that together have totaled 253 yards. Josh Ali was responsible for UK’s other two punt returns (15 yards total) while Chris Rodriguez and Drew Schlegel have each returned a kickoff.

Stoops said Ali has been reliable in the return game and that Travis Tisdale, a true freshman who’s expected to redshirt, could be involved on kickoff returns if needed.

“We have four games that we could play with (Tisdale) that we could put back there as well,” Stoops said.

Should Smith start against the Razorbacks, the staff must be conscious of what his play might suggest about his arm’s health compared to what Smith says about it, Stoops said.

“You have to be very in tune to that, we have to see how he’s playing, how he feels physically,” Stoops said. “That will be determined through this week, and what kind of shots or what happens in game. … We will, obviously, monitor him very, very closely to make sure we don’t put him in harm’s way. And it’s a long season and we need him back, and we need him back healthy and playing like he did early on, like he did in the Florida game. He was very impressive and we got to just make sure he’s able to physically do that.”

Notes

Jordan Griffin is listed as the No. 1 nickelback on UK’s depth chart. Griffin heading into each of the last two games was listed as UK’s No. 1 strong safety but missed most of the Mississippi State game and all of the South Carolina game. This week, he’s listed as “OR” at strong safety along with Quandre Mosely, a junior college transfer making his first appearance on the depth chart, and is close to 100 percent.

“That will help us and give us the opportunity to get some depth back in the secondary,” Stoops said.

Phil Hoskins, a senior who has yet to play a snap this season, has not yet recovered from a knee injury suffered during warmups prior to the Florida game. “Last week he was out, he was running, he was able to go through some more rehab,” Stoops said. “It’s more intense rehab, but he wasn’t out there in team activities.”

Isaiah Epps, who suffered a fracture in his left foot before the season started, isn’t “quite ready,” Stoops said.

Walker Wood, a former star at Lafayette High School, is still listed as the No. 2 option at quarterback.

Saturday

Arkansas at Kentucky

7:30 p.m. (SEC Network)

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Josh Moore is in his first year covering the University of Kentucky football team and in his fifth year reporting for the Lexington Herald-Leader, where he’s been employed since 2009. Moore, a Martin County native, graduated from UK with a B.A. in Integrated Strategic Communication and English in 2013. He’s a huge fan of the NBA, Power Rangers and country music.
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