Starting quarterback emerges after lengthy speculation



By Cody Porter

The outset of Monday’s post-practice interviews brought one answer to the Bluegrass: sophomore quarterback Max Smith will start.

“Max Smith, we feel, gives us the best chance to win at this point and he will be our starting quarterback versus Louisville,”head coach Joker Phillips said.

Phillips said the decision came Sunday night after he and the coaching staff viewed practice tape, but it wasn’t until Monday morning that Smith and his competition, senior Morgan Newton, were informed of the staff’s decision.

“This is one of the tougher decisions I have had to make. We have two quarterbacks that we feel like we can win with, but the guy that gives us the best chance to win at this point (gets the job), “ Phillips said. “A lot of things go into making this decision. There are a lot of different ingredients. We have to think about leadership and both of them are great leaders. Both of them have great knowledge of our offense.”

Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders seemed to think the practice’s helped lead to a clear suggestion as to who the starter should be.

“I think by the way they practiced it was evident that Max was probably a little more productive at this point,” Sanders said.

After Newton was hurt in a 28-16 loss to Mississippi State in late October, the reigns to the team were given to Smith, who completed 51-of-101 passes for 595 yards and four touchdowns.

Smith’s late-season contributions earned him acknowledgement by the SEC and, along with being named SEC Freshman of the Week after winning his first start over Ole Miss.

Newton’s injury became one that led to the then junior to undergo surgery in December.

Due to that surgery, the one-time starter for the Cats was held out of much of spring practice, something he attributed to possibly being part of the decision.

“It was going to be tough for me anyway, just coming back from shoulder (surgery),” Newton said. “I’m still coming back, so working hard on that and working on being a good teammate.”

Phillips elaborated on his decision in adding that it was tougher than many thought, but getting in getting to see extra reps from Smith, it helped his cause.

“It wasn’t obvious, it was tough,” Phillips said. “Again, a lot of factors are involved. I think Max had an upper hand by getting all those reps in the spring too. That had a lot to do with it. You saw him getting more comfortable with every snap he got and you can see a little bit more of it in this fall camp.”

For Smith, it was the opportunity of a lifetime, albeit a tough decision for his coach.

“This is what I have been working for since I was a little kid to get a chance to start for an SEC team,” Smith said. “I am glad to be where I am and I am looking forward to having a good season.”

Phillips said the experience of Newton would keep him secured for the back-up position on the depth chart. However, a decision on who would be the third or fourth-string quarterback between freshmen Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow had yet to be made, he added.