Mark Story

This could be a good omen for Sawyer Smith’s first start for Kentucky football

When Kentucky (2-0) faces No. 9 Florida (2-0) on Saturday night at Kroger Field in the SEC opener for both teams, the Wildcats will be breaking in a new starting quarterback.

UK starting QB Terry Wilson was lost for the season after suffering a torn patellar tendon in his left knee during the Wildcats’ 38-17 victory over Eastern Michigan last week. That injury will make Sawyer Smith, a graduate transfer from Troy, the Wildcats’ starting QB this week against Florida.

While facing a Gators defense with 15 quarterback sacks in the season’s first two games is a daunting challenge for a new QB, recent UK football history supplies a potentially positive omen for Smith’s initial Wildcats’ start.

In the last 11 games in which Kentucky has broken in a new starting quarterback, the Wildcats have won 10 of them.

Let’s review:

2008: In Mike Hartline’s first UK start, the Wildcats won 27-2 at Louisville.

2008: In Randall Cobb’s first UK start, the Wildcats won 14-13 at Mississippi State.

2009: In Morgan Newton’s first UK start, the Wildcats won 21-14 at Auburn.

2011: In Maxwell Smith’s first UK start, the Wildcats won 30-13 over Mississippi.

2011: In Matt Roark’s first (and only) UK quarterback start, the Wildcats won 10-7 over Tennessee.

Matt Roark vs UT
In Matt Roark's first (and only) start as Kentucky quarterback, the Wildcats stunned Tennessee 10-7 in 2011 to snap a 26-game losing streak vs. the Volunteers.

2012: In Jalen Whitlow’s first UK start, the Wildcats lost 27-14 vs. Mississippi State.

2014: In Patrick Towles’ first UK start, the Wildcats clobbered Tennessee Martin 59-14.

2015: In Drew Barker’s first UK start, the Wildcats smoked Charlotte 58-10.

2016: In Stephen Johnson’s first UK start, the Wildcats beat South Carolina 17-10.

2016: In Luke Wright’s first (and only) UK start, the Wildcats whipped Austin Peay 49-13.

2018: In Terry Wilson’s first UK start, the Wildcats beat Central Michigan 35-20.

Since 1996, only five Kentucky quarterbacks have lost their first starts. Interestingly, the three most accomplished UK QBs of the past three decades all took first-game L’s.

Thrown to the wolves by Billy Curry and Elliot Uzelac against No. 1-ranked Florida in The Swamp in 1996, true freshman Tim Couch absorbed a 65-0 pasting by the Gators in his first Kentucky start.

Kentucky lost Jared Lorenzen’s debut start in 2000 in a wild, 40-34 overtime defeat at Louisville.

As a redshirt freshman in 2004, Andre Woodson was forced by an injury to Shane Boyd to make a road game at No. 3 Auburn his initial UK start. The Cats took a 42-10 beating in that one.

In Dusty Bonner’s initial Kentucky start in 1999, the Wildcats were doubled up by Louisville, 56-28.

Whitlow in 2012 was the other UK QB who lost his first start.

Overall since 1996, Kentucky is 11-5 in games in which it has a quarterback making his initial UK start.

Smith, who went 5-2 last season after inheriting the starting quarterback job at Troy due to injury, will seek to continue the recent winning ways of UK first-time QB starters.


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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.