Maxwell Smith gives Kentucky a chance

Gloom and doom has taken up residence among the grid-loving demographicof the Big Blue Nation. That 18-point Sunday shellacking at Papa John's Pizza Emporium only confirmed the faithful's worst fears. It sees an offense that struggled to finish drives. It sees a defense with holes so big — to borrow a David Letterman joke — they have their own gift shop.

What it should see is a reason for hope: Maxwell Smith.

If you have a quarterback, you have a chance.

If one football coach has said that, a million have said that. The quarterback is the most important position on the field. He's the guy with the ball in his hands. He's the one who makes the calls, executes the handoffs, picks the intended receivers, throws the passes.

Judging by the strategy Kentucky used Sunday at Louisville, there will be a lot of passes thrown. The coaches hinted at this after the spring game, talking about an uptempo pace with a stronger air attack. You never know if you should believe what you hear in the spring. This time, it's true. Kentucky threw 50 passes on Sunday and not just because it was playing catch-up for most of the game.

If you're going to put the ball in the air that many times, you'd better have an accurate quarterback. In what we've seen of Maxwell Smith so far, accuracy is his strength. He doesn't have a gun, but he may have a laser. A few of his throws were off-target. He's not Peyton Manning. By and large, however, he threw catchable balls, to the tune of a 70 percent completion rate.

Among the faithful there has been come criticism of Kentucky's reliance on a short-passing game Sunday. Dink, dink, dink. The amateur play-callers wanted more down-the-field strikes, but I think there were at least three reasons for the short-game.

First, UK's offensive boss Randy Sanders has always leaned toward the bubble screen. He feels comfortable calling those throws. Second, UK came into the game with a young and inexperienced offensive line. Three-step drops with quick releases meant took pressure off that line in its first game of the year. And third, Smith is still developing rhythm with an ever-changing receiving corp. LaRod King is really the only dependable holdover. You have the new guys like Darryl Collins and the two freshmen, A.J. Legree and DeMarcus Sweat, plus the semi-new guy in DeMarco Robinson, plus the veterans, Gene McCaskill, Aaron Boyd and E.J. Fields, all with various question marks.

As the season develops, and Smith gains more familiarity with his targets, I see Sanders calling more downfield shots and his quarterback having the faith to take them.

One more thing, last year's offense didn't give Rick Minter's defense much help. This year, if we can go by one game, looks like the defense will need all the help it can get. No one is saying this is 1998 with Tim Couch and Craig Yeast, but if Smith can stay healthy, this offense may be able to provide some assistance.


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