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Sawyer Smith shoulders blame for Kentucky’s poor start

Photo: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Photo: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

While there were numerous crucial moments that proved to be detrimental in Kentucky’s 28-13 loss to Mississippi State on Saturday night, it’s tough to argue that any single mishap was more costly than quarterback Sawyer Smith’s opening-drive interception returned for a touchdown.

While Kentucky turned things around in the second half and put itself in position to win late in the fourth quarter, it was evident that starting from behind killed any and all momentum the team had going into the game. A 7-0 start quickly snowballed into a 21-3 deficit with just over five minutes to go in the second quarter.

After the game, Smith took full responsibility for his early mistake and was quick to admit that it proved to make things difficult for his team moving forward.

“I threw the ball a little behind Justin Rigg,” the junior quarterback said. “You cannot start a football game off like that. And that kind of swung the momentum of the whole game. I have to work on that, take better care of the ball, and take the blame for what happened there.”

And while some felt the slow start was nothing more than a hangover from Kentucky’s disappointing loss to Florida last week, Smith said he didn’t believe that to be the case in the slightest. Take out his interception, and the 6-foot-3 quarterback believes the outcome of the game is different.

“No, I don’t think [there was a Florida hangover],” he said. “I think we had short memory with that. I think if I didn’t throw the pick-six at the start of the game, it’s a different game.”

But it wasn’t just the early interception that made life difficult for the Troy graduate transfer.

After tweaking his wrist a bit last week, Smith, who finished the day with 232 yards and an interception on 15-41 passing, also came up favoring his right shoulder after taking a hit near the end of the second quarter. After halftime came to a close and the Kentucky defense took the field, Smith returned to the locker room to have x-rays done, leaving third-string quarterback Walker Wood as the likely option to take over the offense.

Once the Kentucky offense returned to the field, though, so did Smith, with the junior quarterback sprinting out of the locker room and into the UK huddle to resume his duties under center.

After the game, Smith said his injury didn’t affect his performance in the second half and that he was ready to roll against South Carolina next week.

“No, I went back in, didn’t miss a snap,” he said. “I was good. I was good. I thought we passed the ball pretty well in the second half. I’m 100% [for next week].”

In terms of any other factors that could have potentially played into his his underwhelming performance against the Bulldogs, Smith was quick to dismiss them all.

Miscommunication with the wide receivers or offensive line struggles? Nope.

“They were bringing some good blitzes today and they just got to me a few times,” he said. “We made some plays, they made some plays. That’s nothing on the o-line, that’s probably just me needing to get rid of the ball. We were good communication wise, there were no missed assignments or anything.”

The hostile environment in Kentucky’s first true road game of the season? The obnoxious cowbells? Not that, either.

“No, I played at Clemson in Death Valley when I was a freshman,” he said. “They had a good environment here, but Clemson was a little more loud.”

At the end of the day, it simply came down to a few throws he’d like to get back.

“I mean, I think we left some points out there, especially late in the game,” Smith said. “You’ve got to convert there. I had about two or three throws that I wish I could have back right now. I just wish I had better throws.”

While Smith was hard on himself, Kentucky running back AJ Rose added that in the first half, no one on the team played with the fire necessary to win in a tough road environment like the one they saw in Starkville.

“I mean the pick on the opening drive, that was a killer,” he said. “But we just played flat the whole first half. We’ve got to change that and get better, go watch some film.”

While it was difficult to play from behind right out of the gates, Rose said no one on the team converted on the opportunities handed to them late in the second half.

“It’s definitely frustrating. We can’t play catch-up in this league,” the junior running back said. “We had all the chances in the world to come back at the end of the game, but unfortunately we didn’t.”

Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran also came to Sawyer’s defense, saying there were inconsistencies all over the field, including on the sideline with him as a coach. While he said the pick-six was a major gut punch, the offensive play-caller feels he deserves the most criticism out of everyone.

“I obviously didn’t get them ready to play today, and that’s totally on me,” Gran said. “I’ll go back and look. I really felt that a week ago we went into that game and gave them a chance to win. I’ll go back and watch this film, but with the first pass [thrown by Smith that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown], there was inconsistency with a lot of things. Not just catching balls, not just throwing on time. With picking up protections, we weren’t as good there. We came out and I just didn’t have them ready to play, that’s on me, and that just can’t happen.”

While he wasn’t happy with the total offensive product, Gran was impressed with how the Wildcats responded in the second half and feels they will be ready to compete on the road at South Carolina next week.

“I did think that after being challenged, they came out and competed in the second half,” he said. “On the road, that’s a tough climb, and we still had chances. Convert on a couple of those redzone plays, and that’s a different football game, in my opinion. But woulda, shoulda, coulda, those don’t get it done. That’s on me, and we’ll go back as an offensive staff and they’ve got to be ready on the road in a hostile environment again.”

At the end of the day, Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops still has confidence in his starting quarterback to find success moving forward.

“He’s just got to play. We all still have a lot of confidence in him,” Stoops said. “The kid is banged up already. He’s got a wrist and a shoulder [injury]. He’s banged up, but he’s going to lay it on the line and everyone can relate to that, respect that. He’s going to make mistakes. It was his second start and he’s going to learn from it.”


Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

28 Comments for Sawyer Smith shoulders blame for Kentucky’s poor start

  1. UKinIN
    11:50 pm September 21, 2019 Permalink

    “…[Kentucky] put itself in position to win late in the fourth quarter,…” I’m sorry, Jack, but which game were you watching? UK had the ball down eight. That’s a touchdown and pulling off a two point conversion just to tie the game. UK, unfortunately, was never in position to win the game.

    • Jack Pilgrim
      12:07 am September 22, 2019 Permalink

      Getting to the 11 yard line or closer twice in the fourth quarter when you’re down 11 = putting yourself in position to win. Getting just three total points out of it is the reason that line didn’t read “came from behind late in the fourth quarter to pull off the win.”

    • UKinIN
      10:01 am September 22, 2019 Permalink

      I would argue that you need to be in a position to take the lead if you score = putting yourself in position to win.

    • ColoradoCatFan88
      10:08 am September 22, 2019 Permalink

      Negative. We were never in a “position to win” that game brotha. We were beat as soon as that pick 6 happened. We just have to face the fact that Sawyer is a mediocre qb at best in this league, & our defense is nowhere near the level it was last season. We will be lucky to make a bowl game & that should be our ultimate goal with this squad. Find a way to make a bowl..

    • notFromhere
      1:25 am September 22, 2019 Permalink

      Gotta go with Jack on this one. The game was within reach of they executed the game plan, but they didnt. 2 opportunities missed instead.

      They CAN come from behind in this league, but the offense needs to stop giving the other team points. The defense still had them in a position to win with their play, EVEN THOUGH there is room for improvement.

      Everybody was clearly not on the same page, and therefore had not gotten over the Florida hangover.


    • Baize
      8:19 am September 22, 2019 Permalink

      Glad to see him own up to his mistakes and not throw anyone under the bus. This feels like a 7 win season to me, but that’s not a bad year. Hope we can keep our recruiting class.

      I think we lose to Missouri pretty bad, and South Carolina is a close game.

    • notFromhere
      1:50 am September 22, 2019 Permalink

      Game should have been MSU 14 UK 10 at the half at worst. Cats just didn’t play well.

      17-14 UK leading early 3rd. UK leading 20 or 24-14 early 4th quarter. Then it should have been UK 23 MSU 14 before MSU scores their last TD, maybe 27 or 31-14.

      Young and new Cats are hurting themselves. They have the tools to win both of these games. They have to play harder, smarter, and execute better to turn it around.

    • dave1964
      7:05 am September 22, 2019 Permalink

      Not sure what game you watched but they stunk the field up most of the game receivers dropped way to many balls even 3 TD’s Coaches stunk the field up even worse.

  2. SwaggyP
    11:53 pm September 21, 2019 Permalink

    We still can win 8 or 9 games. Not the end of the world.

  3. Smyrna_Cat
    12:18 am September 22, 2019 Permalink

    We were never in a position to win this game. Hopefully we are in a better place next week.

  4. MaruchanRamenNoodles
    12:25 am September 22, 2019 Permalink

    On a day where AJ Rose was in absolute beast mode, we throw the ball 41 times. We let a backup, 1st year on the team, grad transfer, 1st time starter, that’s banged up, throw 41 times….? 15-41??? 3 headed monster wasn’t unleashed when we needed them most. Defense didn’t show up until the 2nd half. And Eddie Gran…. was Eddie Gran

    • MaruchanRamenNoodles
      12:27 am September 22, 2019 Permalink

      2nd time starter. Sorry. And he actually played great in the game against Florida.

    • PGA msu
      1:13 am September 22, 2019 Permalink

      Yeppers. That’s what happened.

    • PGA msu
      1:20 am September 22, 2019 Permalink

      Still think if Bulldog Burger had better service, then the Cats win bigly.

  5. mashburnfan1
    1:49 am September 22, 2019 Permalink

    Do think Smith can lead this team to very good things if he stops the miscues. The INT at beginning of 2nd half was a main reason for UF loss {fumble on 1st series at our 30 as well} as we were driving to go up big and that was a 6 to 10 point swing {was not all his fault on pick as Bowden gets some blame to} Plus mindsets of the two teams is different if we get 7 and go up big there. Today right out of the gate we are driving and pick 6. Just too costly and is what TW did not do. You are the guy, take care of the ball. Agree on Bowden, I kept saying last week at UF game that he was not running the routes and some plays he never moved after the snap. On the big pick he stopped the route. Still the coaches have to call plays and trust in these kids. We are young but they have talent, would rather lose fighting then sitting in that same stupid defense that let UF win. TRUST your players, they will make some mistakes but may also make that big play, they are learning nothing sitting in a prevent leaving the wr’s open by 7 to 10 yards.

  6. Fat-so
    6:03 am September 22, 2019 Permalink

    The pass that Wagner dropped for 6 was the one that stuck out to me the most at a crucial time in the game and that was NOT on Sawyer! Got to haul those in. Even a pick 6 at the start is something to point the finger at but we had plenty of time to recover from that and get that back, but it’s a loss on the road in the SEC and hopefully next time out A.J. will pick back up where he left off today. Maybe we shouldn’t have threw it 41 times but still, it not on any one individual and Poor Chance Poore has got to start coming thru for us to be successful! Feel bad for that guy. We gonna be alright. Not like we got beat 49-0 and was never in it or some shit like that.

  7. bailey000
    6:22 am September 22, 2019 Permalink

    Boy I hope he watches film and realizes that the problem wasn’t how the ball was thrown. It was read the whole way the ball should not have been thrown at all. Coaches will call a play like that to get a QB started and state did their homework. They have seen that in film. Gran threw that int.

    • notFromhere
      12:31 pm September 24, 2019 Permalink

      Having played QB, that was a poor throw. It didnt lose the game, but the pick6 was a poor throw. I don’t really know how or why it was thrown where it was. Missed the receiver by a few yards.

      He was open 3 yards to the right. 2nd such throw in 2 games. I’m thinking him not being set when he throws may be the issue. Got to point that left foot where you want the ball to go most of the time and follow through with the body. Don’t know if the receiver was supposed to continue or sit in the open space.

      If you don’t know as the QB, then you’re right. Throw it away or tuck and run

  8. bd2153
    8:56 am September 22, 2019 Permalink

    Maybe just not that good. But a good MAC conference team.

  9. TheTweak
    8:57 am September 22, 2019 Permalink

    Typical UK football fan negativity. If the receivers don’t drop 3 touchdowns we win this game, period. Smith didn’t play well but he got no help. And if Stenberg walks away from Gay when he gets thrown out instead of giving him the finger right in front of the official, we get a first and goal on the unsportsmanlike penalty instead of offsetting penalties and a sack. Then we miss the field goal. Folks those plays completely change a game.

    • makeitstop
      10:03 am September 22, 2019 Permalink

      Lot of truth to this post. Logan is supposed to be smart enough to make the other guy make the dumb play. He’s done that a couple of times. And as bad as our defense was at times, we still could’ve won ugly if we hit 2 FG, and catch one more pass. Boneheaded loss.

    • notFromhere
      12:25 pm September 24, 2019 Permalink

      Well said, Tweak

  10. Wade
    9:04 am September 22, 2019 Permalink

    Guys only played 2 games coaches are to blame and effort all around.

  11. KYjellyRoll
    10:16 am September 22, 2019 Permalink

    15/41 and a pick six won’t win any games but also, take away the pick six and it’s still 21-13. Offense couldn’t finish with tdszzz and also a few missed fieldgials

  12. KYjellyRoll
    10:18 am September 22, 2019 Permalink

    We were down 11 inside the 10 yard line (can’t remember exactly) but…we attempted a field goal and missed it! Why not go ahead and try the td you need eventually. Whether it be now or next drive!!? You’re already that close. And dude had already missed a chip shot

    • notFromhere
      12:21 pm September 24, 2019 Permalink

      at that point the game was within reach and winnable. Good point

  13. notFromhere
    12:24 pm September 24, 2019 Permalink

    Was definitely not all on Smith’s shoulders.

    Cats were pressing after being down early. If they calm down and do their jobs, work within the system after that pick 6, they win the game. Just needed to make ordinary plays on the ball. Nedd to not try to do too much.