UK Football

Kentucky confident in Maxwell Smith's arm strength

Doubts about the arm strength of UK quarterback Max Smith (11) have lingered throughout the season. Smith and the coaching staff said his arm is fine.
Doubts about the arm strength of UK quarterback Max Smith (11) have lingered throughout the season. Smith and the coaching staff said his arm is fine. Herald-Leader

Does Maxwell Smith have the same zip on his throws as he did in the past?

Have shoulder injuries limited the Kentucky quarterback's ability to throw the deep ball effectively?

Smith and offensive coordinator Neal Brown have heard those questions and believe that the sophomore is plenty healthy enough to make the throws necessary to guide the UK offense, starting next Thursday at Mississippi State.

"Is his arm where it was three or four years ago, maybe pre-surgery? Probably not, but I don't know if anybody in this room is as good as they were three or four years ago either ... at certain things that involve your body," Brown told the media after a wet practice on Wednesday.

"But he's got to adapt. He's got plenty enough arm strength to still get it done."

As starter Jalen Whitlow battles back from an ankle sprain suffered early in Saturday's loss to Alabama, the focus turns to Smith to try to lead the UK offense. He has taken a majority of the snaps in practice this week, Coach Mark Stoops said.

And coaches were fairly quiet about who the Cats' backup will be if Smith goes down or if Whitlow's ankle injury lingers.

So for now Smith, who has started nine games at Kentucky over the last three seasons in between ankle and shoulder injuries, is the pilot of the offense.

The Granada Hills, Calif., native said his shoulder "feels fine."

"I hurt it against Louisville, and obviously it never got back to 100 (percent), but it feels fine," Smith said. "I'm able to make all throws."

Questions about his arm strength are unfounded, Smith said.

"I know I can make any throw on the field," he said. "If I have to launch the ball 60 yards for a go route, I can do that, too. Just making sure I'm more consistent and keeping a good base, throwing balls where guys can catch and get some yards after."

In meetings on Wednesday before practice, Brown had a long talk with Smith about getting better about using his lower body to make those deep throws and showing more "blind trust" in the play-makers around him.

"It's his lower body; he's not using his lower body, which causes him to lose velocity on those maybe hash (mark)-to-sideline throws," Brown said. "When he uses his lower body, he's got no issues whatsoever, he's got plenty of arm strength."

Regardless of how Smith plays next week in Starkville, Miss., Brown said he'll be happy to get Whitlow back from his injury, whenever that might be, because he stretches opposing defenses with his running ability.

Does Smith envision a scenario where he plays so well against the Bulldogs that the coaches won't want to put him back into the backup role?

Smith balked.

"I just think about, 'Let's actually win a game,'" he said. "It doesn't matter who it is. It might be me this week, and I'm going to go play to the best of my ability and just keep it rolling."

Both Brown and the Kentucky head coach addressed contingency plans should Whitlow be out for more than just this game. The plan for this season had been to redshirt sophomore Patrick Towles and true freshman Reese Phillips

Now they have to prepare one of them to go in. The coaches seemed to have made that decision already, Smith said, without saying who the backup is.

"It's gonna be determined by how hurt Jalen is for the backup," Stoops said. "If it's gonna be one game, we don't want either of those backup quarterbacks to play, because we'd like to redshirt both of them."

The UK coach said Towles, who was in a similar situation and had to remove his redshirt last season after several quarterback injuries, has "sacrificed a little more in that he's the sophomore and he wanted to take that redshirt, so I think we (have) to be conscious of that as well."

Both Towles and Phillips have said they want to help the team win and would play this season if called upon, Stoops said.

"We're getting both of them a lot of work this week, and we'll make a decision sometime later in the week," Brown added.

■ On the Southeastern Conference coaches' teleconference Wednesday, Stoops said injured wide receiver Demarco Robinson and offensive lineman Kevin Mitchell are both banged up, but probably will be back for the next game.

"It's a good time to have 12 days in between games," Stoops said. "We can use that time to heal up a little bit, but also get better as a football team."

Next game

Kentucky at Mississippi State

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 24

Records: Kentucky 1-5 (0-3 SEC), Mississippi State 3-3 (0-2)