Za’Darius Smith is playing the best football of his career at the right time.
Yesterday the former Kentucky defensive end got awfully familiar with Marcus Mariota. The Tennessee Titans’ quarterback was sacked by Big Z three times, including one impressive strip sack by the Baltimore Raven. The only thing more impressive than that play is his post-sack celebration.
I think it’s safe to say Za’Darius was pretty happy after the win.
— RavenSSSSSSSSSSS (@Ravens) October 14, 2018
Za’Darius added five tackles and two quarterback hurries to his lengthy stat sheet. He woke up to a text message from his old coach.
“Shot him a text this morning and congratulated him. He’s having a really good year and had a great game,” Mark Stoops said at today’s press conference.
Smith is up to six total sacks this season through six weeks, surpassing a career-high set in 2015. According to Jonas Shaffer of the Baltimore Sun, Smith is getting one sack every seven snaps. He’s playing the best football of his career before in the final year of his contract, setting up a big paycheck in free agency this offseason. Stoops is not surprised one bit.
“He’s a great example of a guy that just comes in and was a real man about things. He came in with a mission. He came in from Junior College on a mission to improve everyday. A lot like Josh Allen and many others,” Stoops said.
“He’s there to get better each and every day. He practiced like that when he was here. He’s gotten better in the NFL. He’s having a great career and I’m just proud of him and the way he handles his business. You can tell he’s a pro the way he’s taking care of his body, the way he’s developing. He looks huge and he’s playing very fast, playing good. I’m just happy for him.”
Smith’s three-sack performance is rare for Kentucky Wildcats. The last former Kentucky player to have at least three sacks in an NFL regular-season game was in 1987 when the Chiefs’ Art Still took Jim McMahon to the ground three times. Smith’s success — along with Bud Dupree, Avery Williamson and others — helps on the recruiting front as well.
“Those guys have been very productive here,” said Stoops. “It helps.”
Big Z has been a grown man in 2018. It will not be long before Josh Allen is replicating that success on Sundays.