Max Smith out indefinitely, Towles likely to lose redshirt



By Ethan Levine

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UK head football coach Joker Phillips announced Monday that starting quarterback Maxwell Smith tore a ligament in his left ankle in Saturday’s game against South Carolina that will require surgery.

Phillips and Smith saw the sophomore’s MRI Monday morning and confirmed that the injury will require surgery, forcing Smith to miss significant time for the Cats, possibly the remainder of the season. As of now, Phillips said Smith will be out indefinitely. Should Smith be sidelined for UK’s final seven games, Phillips said the team would apply for a medical redshirt that would not force Smith to use a year of eligibility for this season.

Smith injured his ankle on the second play of the game last week, and did not return. He was returning to the lineup after missing UK’s previous game against Florida with a separated throwing shoulder.

Through three games and two plays against the Gamecocks, Smith was 103-150 passing for 975 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions. At the time of his injury, Smith’s 322 passing yards per game was best in the SEC.

“He’s worked his tail off to get in position to play major college football,” Phillips said. “He was a guy who wasn’t signed until March of his senior year, so obviously he is down because of how hard he has worked.”

Replacing Smith at quarterback for the Cats will be the tandem of freshmen Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles.

Whitlow replaced Smith against South Carolina following his injury, the first significant playing time of his career. Whitlow was 12-23 for 114 yards and a rushing touchdown against the Gamecocks, which included two second half interceptions.

Towles, UK’s top quarterback recruit from Highlands High School in Fort Thomas, Ky., has sat with a redshirt this season, but Phillips confirmed Monday that he would remove Towles’ redshirt due to a lack of depth at the position. Towles has never taken a snap at the collegiate level, and has spent much of his freshman season running UK’s scout team in practice.

Whitlow was recruited to UK as an athlete, and can run in space as well as he can throw the ball. Whitlow has plenty of velocity on his passes, but his strength will continue to be the athleticism and quickness he brings to the position.

On the other hand, Towles is a true pocket passer, much like Smith. Towles is not expected to move around and extend plays or create opportunities with his legs the way Whitlow is able to, but may be a more comfortable fit in an offense designed around Smith’s strengths as a passer, not Whitlow’s.

While it is certainly a unique situation for UK to be splitting time at its most important position between two freshmen, Phillips is no stranger to coaching freshman quarterbacks. In the last three years, Whitlow and Towles will now be the third and fourth freshman quarterbacks to take snaps for UK, following in the footsteps on Smith (started four games in 2011 as a freshman) and Morgan Newton (started six games as freshman in 2009).

Phillips said the two would share the quarterback duties until the end of the season, but a specific plan for using both quarterbacks is not in place.

The head coach said he does not know which of the two will take the field first against Mississippi State on Saturday or how often he would rotate the two on and off the field. But, as Phillips added, neither do UK’s opponents, perhaps a subtle upper-hand for a 1-4 football team allowing two true freshmen to share its quarterback duties.

“I think it is exciting, Phillips said, “because I can tell you this: the team we are about to play has no idea what they’re about to get. We really don’t know what we’re about to get.”