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October 1, 2012Sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith will undergo surgery this week to repair a torn ligament in his ankle and is out indefinitely, Kentucky coach Joker Phillips announced on Monday.
In his place, freshman quarterbacks Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles will split time for the Wildcats. If Smith is out for the remainder of the season, he plans on applying for a medical hardship waiver that would grant him another season of eligibility.
"We'll have to play them both," Phillips said. "It's going to take the effort of both of them. It could be right in the middle of the series. If it's not series to series to series, it could be play after play after play, switching them in and out."
Whitlow is a dual-threat quarterback from Prattville, Ala. who has seen some action so far this season. Towles, a native of Ft. Thomas, Ky., is a more traditional pro-style passer. Whitlow is expected to get the start, but both quarterbacks will play.
"The team we're playing has no idea what they're about to get," Phillips said. "We don't know what we're about to get."
Whitlow completed 12 of 23 passes for 114 yards with two interceptions against South Carolina. He also rushed for 53 yards and a touchdown, but lost 47 yards on six sacks.
"He was calling the plays a little quiet," junior right tackle [db]Kevin Mitchell[/db] said. "We had to get him to speak up a little bit. But for the most part I think he felt comfortable. He did a good job."
He played sparingly in Kentucky's 38-0 loss to Florida, completing 1 of 6 passes for 12 yards. His style stands in stark contrast to Smith, who's longest career run is five yards.
Towles, ranked as the No. 9 quarterback in the nation in the class of 2012, had been redshirting. He had been playing with the scout team to this point in the season. His father, Terry, had voiced frustration that Patrick wasn't playing after Kentucky's fourth game this season.
"If Max was going to be out for an extended period of time, we said we said we'd pull the redshirt off and play (Towles)," Phillips said. "That's what we intend to do."
Smith, who had been battling a lingering shoulder injury before Saturday, was injured on the second offensive play of the game for UK. A South Carolina defensive lineman rolled on his ankle and he fell to the turf. He was taken to the locker room shortly after and spent the second half on the sidelines on crutches.
Smith had completed 102 of 149 passes through three games for 966 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions. He ranked among the nationally leaders in passing yardage and touchdowns before missing Kentucky's game against Florida after re-aggravating an AC sprain in his right (throwing) shoulder.
"The guy was playing at a high level," Phillips said. "Probably as high as anybody I've been around at this phase of his career."
It's the third time in four seasons Kentucky has had to start a true freshman quarterback against an SEC opponent.
Smith started against Ole Miss as a true freshman in 2011 after Morgan Newton suffered a high ankle sprain and shoulder injury the week before against Mississippi State. He led UK to its first SEC win of the season, going 19 for 36 for 283 yards and two touchdowns.
Newton had to step in as a freshman in 2009 when junior Mike Hartline suffered a knee injury against South Carolina. He led UK to a 21-14 win at Auburn, the program's first since 1966. Newton went 5-13 for 39 yards with a rushing touchdown in the game before being pulled in the second half.
"Everybody thinks it's easy," Phillips said. "It's difficult to get a true freshman ready to play with all the things involved. Especially some of the defenses we'll see."
Newton, a senior who started the game against Florida, does not figure prominently into the Wildcats' plan at quarterback the rest of the way. He completed 7 of 21 passes for 48 yards against the Gators with three interceptions before being benched in favor of Whitlow in the fourth quarter. For his career, he has completed 50.1 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
"We're playing those guys because they give us the best chance to win, not to build for the future," Phillips said.
If Smith's medical hardship waiver is granted and Towles plays, all three quarterbacks would enter next season as sophomores. Towles and Whitlow would still have a redshirt season left in that scenario.
Junior safety Dakotah Tyler will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. He's expected to sit out spring practice and return in summer.
Sophomore linebacker Miles Simpson is day-to-day. Tight end Gabe Correll is out with a hip flexor. Senior tailback CoShik Williams is day-to-day with a hip strain.
Redshirt freshman guard Zach West, who suffered a shoulder injury on Saturday, is expected to practice on Wednesday or Thursday. Junior tailback Raymond Sanders, who had an unspecified knee injury after Saturday's game, should also return Wednesday or Thursday.
Sophomore safety [db]Ashely Lowery[/db] is expected to play this week after missing last week with concussion-like symptoms. Redshirt freshman linebacker [db]Josh Forrest is also expected to return after missing several games with a hip flexor.