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Film Room: Sawyer Smith

Kentucky’s quarterback for the final ten+ games of the 2019 season will be Sawyer Smith. Unlike another successful backup story at Kentucky, the grad transfer from Troy did not have the benefit from spring practice.

Smith’s inexperience in Eddie Gran’s offense was not obvious in his first appearance for the Wildcats. He completed 5-of-9 passes (two of which were thrown away to avoid sacks) for 76 yards and two touchdowns. Each score came from fade routes, to Ahmad Wagner and Lynn Bowden, respectively.

In order to paint the clearest picture of what Smith brings to the table, we must go back to his time as Neal Brown’s signal-caller at Troy.


Before Brown was forced to give the reins of his offense to Smith, the Cantonment, Fl. native was used in spurts as a change of pace on the Trojans’ offense. His ability to make plays with his legs gave a different dynamic to the offense. On the road at Nebraska, he exploded for a 57-yard run out of a read option.

We saw Smith use his legs once against Eastern Michigan, turning a broken play into a five-yard gain that moved the chains. In the Dollar General Bowl, he proved that he can proficiently pull off the pass option of the RPO as well.

Smith does not exclusively use his legs to go north-south. When pressure forces him out of the pocket, he has a knack for extending plays with his legs. Many times running quarterbacks will rely on their legs once the play breaks down, but Smith keeps his eyes downfield to find an open receiver for a first down.

Big Arm

Smith saved his best game for last at Troy. After the Trojans suffered a loss to Appalachian State in the Sun Belt Conference Championship Game, he came out firing in the Dollar General Bowl against Buffalo. On Troy’s third play from scrimmage, Smith let one rip. The ball sailed more than 50 yards in the air before he connected with the open wide receiver for a 60-yard touchdown.

Smith showed some swagger after the score too. He flashed a “horns down” hand sign to his own sideline, an insult typically reserved for Texas that also applied to the Buffalo Bulls.

You can easily measure his arm strength. What you cannot quantify is his experience. After starting for six games, Smith could clearly see the defense. Instead of panicking when Buffalo dialed up a blitz on third down, he stood firm in the pocket and made the Bulls pay with another deep ball that resulted in a touchdown.


Smith operates well in RPO’s and his arm strength will stretch out opposing defenses. Where he struggles at times is his accuracy in the intermediate passing game. Arguably the most difficult part of passing to master, Terry Wilson spent all offseason working on his ability to convert third and long situations. Even though it’s not one of Smith’s strengths, he’s proven he can get the job done.

On that third and long you can see Smith’s eyes shift from one receiver to the next, all while evading pressure in the pocket.

Aside from the Nebraska run, all of clips you’ve seen from Smith were from his best performance of the season. In the 42-32 Dollar General Bowl victory he completed 31-of-44 passing attempts (70.5%) for 320 yards and four touchdowns. He was not always that consistent as Troy’s starter in the final six games of the regular season.

Sawyer Smith is far from perfect. Many mistakes will be made while he’s at the helm. It’s important that all of those mistakes are manageable.

Like he did in 2016 when Stephen Johnson had to replace Drew Barker, Eddie Gran will build the offense around Smith’s strengths. Unlike Johnson, Smith has experience in big-time college football games. Even though those games were in the Sun Belt, it’s an intangible that will pay immediate dividends. Smith has all of the mental and physical tools to make sure Kentucky’s offense does not lose significant momentum after an exceptional start to the season.


Article written by Nick Roush

"Look upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole." @RoushKSR

14 Comments for Film Room: Sawyer Smith

  1. Rick_Noush
    3:14 pm September 9, 2019 Permalink

    Great breakdown. Thank you sir.

    3:36 pm September 9, 2019 Permalink

    He is pretty damn good!

  3. Jimi40
    3:45 pm September 9, 2019 Permalink

    …and he is surrounded by better talent. Better than Stephen Johnson had….

    All he has to do is manage the game & drop the long ball from time to time.

    Kids got great touch. Softer than a coon dog liking a crying Tn fans tears….lol

  4. Smyrna_Cat
    3:58 pm September 9, 2019 Permalink

    The SEC is not forgiving … this will be a tough transition. Fingers crossed.

  5. 4everUKblue
    4:07 pm September 9, 2019 Permalink

    Come see about it!

  6. Thetruthshallsetbennyfree
    4:34 pm September 9, 2019 Permalink

    It was his first full time gig so yeah he struggled. He still threw for more than 60%, over 7 y/a, and more than doubled up his td to int ratio.

  7. Tom Bombadil
    5:33 pm September 9, 2019 Permalink

    Nice article Nick. GO CATS!

  8. AirForceOne
    6:09 pm September 9, 2019 Permalink

    He has some very relevant experience in big games, so I think he will be fine under pressure. He seems to be fast enough, and certainly big enough, to keep defenses honest with his running. Long ball is good, and hopefully his pass protection will hold up well as he goes through progressions. I think the only thing he really needs is reps. Study that playbook kid….ready or not, you are now QB1

  9. JASUN74
    8:49 pm September 9, 2019 Permalink

    This is going to be a great season and Smith can handle whatever is coming. Let’s get this win over Florida boys!! Woooo. Go Cats. Cats- 34, Florida- 20!! Let’s go!!

    Four Touchdowns and two field goals for the Cats.
    Two touchdowns and two field goals for the Gators!!

  10. KYCat4EVER
    12:25 am September 10, 2019 Permalink

    Like his confidence and attitude…. should be an interesting Saturday night in the BLUEGRASS !


  11. wildcatlove4life
    7:31 am September 10, 2019 Permalink

    Cats by 14

  12. Ross7035
    7:46 am September 10, 2019 Permalink

    they say dont mess with a wounded dog. well if that rings true on Saturday night this entire team, school, fan base, and state should be ready to rally around Sawyer Smith. he has the skill set, experience, and moxy to run the show. all he needs is the rest of the team to step there game up and cover up for any mistakes that are made from just being rusty. it will be wild seen at the Kroger and if u want to get this thing off an running throw it deep to Wagner first play on offense. if he catches it could mean 7 if not he will get a penalty. this will relax everyone and force Florida to think a little harder. come out firing and get this kids confidence rolling from play one!!!! go big blue and let’s get this streak started!!!!

  13. krautdog
    11:34 am September 10, 2019 Permalink

    Smith looks very competent. The great news is, we now have receivers that can hold onto the ball. I believe that I have only seen one or two dropped passes so far.

  14. Bluenblood
    4:47 pm September 10, 2019 Permalink

    Great article and GREAT pickup by Mark Stoops and the coaching staff. SAVED THE SEASON. GO CATS. NOTHING SUCKS LIKE A BIG ORANGE