Start buying up those #11 UK football jerseys, my friends. The Max Smith era is officially underway and he’s undefeated as quarterback for your Kentucky Wildcats. In his first career start, Smith and the Wildcats defeated the Rebels 30-13 on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon in Lexington. Ole Miss came out and grabbed an early lead but Kentucky put 20 points on the board in the final quarter to get the W. It was Kentucky’s 14th come-from-behind victory in 66 games.
Let’s talk about it…
— The Max Smith era got off to a good start Saturday night. The freshman quarterback completed 19-of-36 passes for 283 yards and two touchdowns in his first career start for the Wildcats. Those numbers are impressive, but what’s even more impressive is that he just looks like a quarterback out there. He throws a tight ball on short routes and hits his receivers right in the numbers. He shows touch on the deep ball (even though he overthrew a few guys) when Morgan Newton’s deep passes always looked more like desperation heaves. Plus he stands in the pocket under pressure to make the throw, rather than bailing on the play early and scrambling around. I’m not ready to crown him yet but there is a lot of potential there.
— Smith’s big game under center means Morgan Newton’s reign as UK’s starting quarterback is likely over. The offense looks much better with Smith at the helm and it showed on the scoreboard. The Cats have only scored 30+ points in two games this season: Saturday against Ole Miss and last week against Mississippi State. Both of those were Max Smith games. The difference in the offense under the two quarterbacks is night and day. Kentucky is more of a pass-first offense with Smith as opposed to the run, run, run offense with Newton. Newton averaged 23 pass attempts in the first six game to Smith’s 35 in the last two. Part of that is the two different quarterback styles — and maybe the lack of depth at running back — but a lot of it could be attributed to the staff’s confidence in him making the throws.
— One person who is cashing in on Max Smith at quarterback is Matt Roark. Roark caught seven passes and matched his total from last week with 116 yards. In praise of his receiver’s turnaround, Joker joked that Roark dropped seven passes in one game earlier in the season. That might actually be accurate. Now, Roark is looking like an All-SEC receiver with 20 catches in the last two games. He only caught five passes in the first six games of the season. I think he likes his new quarterback.
— Montana to Rice… Aikman to Irvin… Couch to Yeast… Smith to Roark?
— Is it possible that Morgan Newton is partly responsible for all of the dropped passes throughout the season? Just a thought. The receivers are catching everything Smith throws at them. Think about it and get back to me.
— It wasn’t all air attack in Kentucky’s win, the ground game showed up to play as well. Junior running back Coshik Williams ran for 111 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. The offensive line created holes for their back and he took advantage of them. ‘Shik was hitting holes, breaking tackles, and “running downhill” as the analysts say. The way he was running just gave everyone the feel that he could break one off and be gone at anytime. It’ll be interesting to see if this keeps up for the rest of the season because Ole Miss’ run defense, well, it sucks. I don’t know how else to put it.
— Kentucky’s defense, on the other hand, played great. There were a few hiccups throughout the game but Rick Minter’s guys stepped up when it mattered most. They stopped Ole Miss on two 4th and short situations and holding the Rebels to six points on the first two possessions could be considered the game changer. Ole Miss drove the ball deep into Kentucky territory twice in the first quarter, only to come away with a field goal each time. That put Kentucky in an early 6-0 hole when it could’ve easily been a 14-point deficit instead. Take away a few huge plays from Ole Miss and you can call it a dominating performance from everyone in blue.
— Danny Trevathan had 17 tackles and an interception. These aren’t even “outstanding performances” anymore — it’s just “normal”.
— The Cats can thank the Ole Miss offensive line for helping out in the win. They gave up 25 yards on a false start and two holding calls in one drive when Ole Miss was looking to tie or take the lead in the 4th quarter. The Rebels were down three with the ball and a first down in UK territory but the big fellas up front kept drawing the yellow flags. We appreciate ya. Ole Miss committed 11 penalties in the game. Again, we appreciate ya.
A few quick-hitters before we disperse:
— Kentucky’s 10-6 lead at the half was the first halftime lead in an SEC game under Joker Phillips. He’s turning it around!
— Ryan Tydlacka will be punting for an NFL team soon. The kid gets it done every single week.
— It’s good to see Mark Crawford out there making big plays. It has been a long road for the defensive tackle.
— The crowd was pathetic. The official number is 56,882 but that sounds pretty generous. I will say that the people who were at the game were very energetic throughout.
— Craig McIntosh is human. It’s hard to believe, I know.
Next, the Cats go to Nashville for a game against the not-so-terrible Commodores. The bowl hopes are still alive and a win against Vandy puts it all on the line against Tennessee. Don’t look now but UK football is exciting again.
Rashawn will be by later tonight with quotes from the presser.
Go Cats, everybody.