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October 16, 2013

Once again, Kentucky QB situation in flux

Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown sat with quarterback Maxwell Smith and showed him film of successful throws from the past three seasons.

It was partly to address some mechanical issues and partly to ensure Smith's mentality is where it needs to be as the sophomore rides the week-to-week roller coaster that is the Wildcats' starting quarterback position.

"His confidence is fine," Brown said.

After sophomore Jalen Whitlow left the Alabama game with an ankle injury and has been deemed unlikely to play next Thursday against Mississippi State, Smith appears to be back at the No. 1 position.

The sophomore has gone from losing the starting job in fall camp to winning in back after UK's first game to losing it again after the fourth game to probably having it again for the seventh game.

Smith, who is 51 for 92 (55.4 percent) for 710 yards with five touchdowns and an interception, said he's "probably not playing up to my full potential."

"Just start not making silly mistakes…," Smith said when asked how he can reach that potential. "Just making sure I make every throw. Small margins of error with the teams we play."

Brown said he's got to "have some blind trust" with the young receivers. He also noticed a mechanical issue that could help Smith deliver higher-velocity passes with more accuracy and consistency.

"Here's the deal: Is his arm where it was three or four years ago, maybe pre-surgery? Probably not," Brown said. "But he's got to adapt. He's got plenty of arm strength to get it done… . He's not using his lower body, which causes him to lose velocity on those (outside) throws. When he uses his lower body, he's got no issues whatsoever."

Smith said maintaining a good lower-body base with throws has been "a focus" this week, especially since his right shoulder is still not "back to 100 (percent)" since he injured it against Louisville.

"I know I can make any throw on the field," Smith said. "Just making sure I'm more consistent, keeping a good base and throwing balls where guys can catch and get some yards after it."

Even if Smith can make the throws, it's not likely he starts airing it out. Excluding the Miami (Ohio) game, Smith is 3 for 12 with one touchdown and one interception on passes thrown 20 or more yards downfield.

It's more about quick throws between the hash mark and the sideline that Brown wants Smith to clean up against defenses that will continue to bring pressure on Smith, who's taken eight sacks for a loss of 44 yards.

"In the SEC, against the D-linemen we're going against, it's going to happen on occasion," offensive line coach John Schlarman said. "But we've got to strive to not let that happen and protect our quarterbacks better."

Especially because another quarterback injury could lead to long-term changes.

Stoops said the staff hasn't made a final decision on whether sophomore Patrick Towles or freshman Reese Phillips would play if, for some reason, both Whitlow and Smith were unavailable.

Stoops said multiple factors would go into the decision, including how much time Whitlow is expected to miss and at what point in the game a potential situation may arise that necessitates burning one of their redshirts.

"Patrick sacrificed a little more in that he's the sophomore and he wanted to take that redshirt, so I think we got to be conscious of that as well," Stoops said. "We're just looking at the best option. And either of the guys would do whatever we needed them to do. They've been very unselfish."

Towles and Phillips were not made available for comment.

"Once we told (Towles) where he was at, then of course he wanted to redshirt and get that year back from last year," Stoops said. "And him being one year older, you've got to be a little bit conscious of where he's at and what he'd like to do. But on the same hand, if he's going to get an opportunity to truly be the starting quarterback and play, he's ready to go."

To this point, Towles has been on the scout team, which Stoops said "helps him get good looks and throw the ball and stay active." Stoops said it would be a mental adjustment for Towles if he had to switch his role midseason, but said it's one Towles is ready for.

Brown said both Towles and Phillips "would like that opportunity" to earn some playing time this season if the situation calls for it.

"We're getting both of them a lot of work this week," Brown said.

Regardless, the staff maintains they would prefer neither has to burn their redshirt.

"The sooner (Whitlow) can get back," Brown said, "the better."


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