By The Associated Press
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Joker Phillips has stated all year he didn’t want to start a freshman quarterback.
He has no choice Saturday against Ole Miss.
The Wildcats (3-5, 0-4 Southeastern Conference) are going with freshman Maxwell Smith. Usual first-stringer Morgan Newton will only be available in case of emergency. He had a high ankle sprain last week against Mississippi State and was unable to put much weight on his right leg throughout practice this week.
Smith replaced Newton in the first quarter and threw for 174 yards in a 28-16 loss. But he drove the Wildcats to a touchdown, and that experience has helped Smith in practice leading up to Saturday’s game against Mississippi (2-6, 0-5). Phillips said that confidence boost was especially important considering Smith’s struggles early in the season.
“It’s amazing what making a couple of plays does for a guy,” Phillips said. “He’s not a guy that gets uptight about much, and that’s how you want your quarterback to be. We’ve put him in a little more for him (in the playbook) and we’ll try to help him a little.
“He’ll look more at us like we’ve done in the past with our check system.”
The best part of this game Saturday is at least one team heads home with a Southeastern Conference victory, and Phillips said he’s looking at Saturday as a chance to renew energy around his team with Smith leading the offense.
“You know, you’re in this game to play. We’ve still got a chance to have a special season,” Phillips said. “We still got a chance to reach some of our goals. You have to get up every week. Everybody’s in this game to play, and when you come to play, you have to play with emotions. This is an important week because it gets tougher and tougher every week. You know, some of your goals start slipping away from you every week now.”
Behind mostly Newton, the Wildcats enter this game ranked 118th out of 120 FBS teams in total offense averaging 265.8 yards per game. Kentucky quarterbacks have thrown for 126 yards per game — 115th in the country.
The Rebels haven’t moved the ball much better. They come in ranked 115th in the country averaging 183.6 total yards, and they’ve used three quarterbacks in the process.
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt has settled on junior Randall Mackey, who has taken all of the team’s snaps at quarterback in the last four games. Mackey is 57 of 108 for 809 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions.
Mississippi has lost three straight, including last week’s 41-23 loss to Auburn. In this series, the Rebels have won seven of the last nine played overall but just 2-4 in the last six games played in Kentucky.
Because of the two teams’ inexperience at quarterback, Nutt said both teams will rely on all their other players.
“They are a team a lot like us,” Nutt said. “I don’t know if that makes you more excited or not. I want my players to be excited about playing for sixty minutes, everybody doing their job and playing with a lot of passion and energy.”