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September 4, 2013

Smith developing as leader after being named starter

Quarterback Maxwell Smith found out he was Kentucky's starter for its second game of the season the same way you might have.

Through Twitter.

Coach Mark Stoops announced he would start the sophomore against Miami (Ohio) this Saturday at his Monday afternoon news conference. Smith saw it on social media that day. Offensive coordinator Neal Brown called him that night to talk about the decision of which Smith was already aware.

That didn't mean it changed much for Smith.

"Just going about my business, the same that I always do," Smith said of the three days since he was officially named starter.

It will be Smith's eighth career start.


"He needs to be a better player when he starts the game than at any point he has been in his career," Brown said.

He's already become a better leader.

Smith said immediately after the loss to Western Kentucky that he would "step up" as a leader, regardless of his starter status.

"Just because coaches are always challenging people," Smith said Wednesday. "I feel like the team sees me as a leader, but I think I have to take control of the team more often, maybe."

So far, the coaches have seen him do exactly that.

"I have seen a change, and I anticipate him to continue to lead us," Stoops said. "We need that."

Stoops said a possible explanation for Smith's reservations throughout camp was out of respect to the ongoing quarterback competition.

"I think it's gotten to the point now where it's, 'hey, heck (with) it,'" Stoops said. "'Let me just take it and do the best I can.' And that's what we're looking for."

Another reason: Smith is the leader on the depth chart as well.

"I think comfort is a good word for that," Brown said. "It's hard to be a leader as a backup."

Smith has his chance as a starter, now, and he's looking to make amends for two rough scrimmages.

That started with a strong fourth quarter against WKU, completing 8 of 13 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown in relief of sophomore Jalen Whitlow.

"I threw the ball pretty well," Smith said, "but other than that, I didn't do too much, really, that good."

Brown had more to say.

The offensive coordinator liked the way Smith handled himself on the sidelines the first three quarters as he watched from bench. Smith stood apart from the rest of the team so that he could "see the defense" better and pick up on tendencies, but that didn't stop him from "giving energy and supporting his teammates," Brown said.

And when he went in, Brown saw enough on film to anoint him starter. He "did a better job handling the environment," Brown said, and led UK on more productive drives.

"He made less mistakes and he did some of the basic things that we're looking for correctly and distributed the ball where we needed to," Stoops said. "So that was the big thing with helping us move the football."

Smith will have the chance to lead more scoring drives against Miami (Ohio). Although Whitlow will play -- Brown said so definitively -- Smith, if he plays well, likely will stay in for most of the snaps.

In week one, Marshall's Rakeem Cato threw for 287 passing yards and five passing touchdowns in the Thundering Herd's 52-14 win over the Redhawks.

The coaches notified Smith, however -- and not through Twitter this time -- that Cato led the NCAA in passing yards and completions per game last season.

"So following up that performance might be a little hard," Smith said. "And obviously Miami of Ohio has a chip on their shoulder just like we have a chip on ours."


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