UK Football

Does Kentucky have the worst starting quarterback in college football? By one metric, yes.

You had to be living under a rock to realize that Kentucky’s quarterback situation changed drastically from the start of the season until now. How huge a swing has it been? By one site’s metrics, the drop-off since Terry Wilson’s injury has been the most significant in college football.

According to Pro Football Focus, Sawyer Smith through three games is the worst starting quarterback among all 130 FBS programs. The same site, which specializes in the analysis of NFL and college football games, had Wilson ranked 46th among all starters before the season started.

Wilson suffered a season-ending tear of the patellar tendon in his left knee in the third quarter of Kentucky’s 38-17 win over Eastern Michigan. Smith finished that game and made his first start as a Wildcat the next week against Florida.

He threw two touchdown passes in each of those games, and rushed for one against the Gators, but in his next two starts — at Mississippi State and at South Carolina — combined to complete 26 of 73 passes with no TDs and two interceptions. Smith has five total interceptions (three against Florida), which is tied for sixth most in college football.

Smith started at Mississippi State after suffering a wrist injury in the second half against Florida. He suffered a shoulder injury in the second quarter at Mississippi State but played most of the game at South Carolina before Lynn Bowden took over on the Wildcats’ final drive, the only one on which they scored in a 24-7 defeat.

PFF tracks a stat called “turnover-worthy passes,” which it describes, in short, as passes that have a high percentage of being intercepted. (You can click here to read more about PFF’s quarterback grading tool.) Smith at Mississippi State threw 11 “turnover-worthy passes,” the most in a single game since PFF began tracking the stat. His 18 total TWPs are the most through six weeks of the season in recorded history.

“The loss of Terry Wilson looks all that more harmful with Smith putting forth those numbers,” PFF senior analyst Cam Mellor wrote for the site.

Kentucky’s coaching staff has expressed a desire to start Smith this week against Arkansas, and he’s listed as the No. 1 option on UK’s depth chart. Smith did not throw in practice at all last week but has participated this week.

Bowden took most of the reps with the No. 1 unit last week and seems keen on the notion of playing quarterback for the Wildcats.

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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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