CRAWFORD | To the Max -- Smith gets starting nod for Kentucky - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | To the Max -- Smith gets starting nod for Kentucky

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The University of Kentucky will make a quarterback change, first-year coach Mark Stoops said today at his weekly news conference.

Maxwell Smith, who started last season and threw for 125 yards in relief during a 35-26 loss to Western Kentucky on Saturday in Nashville, will get the call over Jalen Whitlow when Miami (Ohio) visits Lexington on Saturday.

Stoops said it had nothing to do with the play of Whitlow, who ran for 76 yards and passed for 78 more. But Smith, who is the more comfortable passer, gives the coaching staff more options in the passing game.

"Just because we're naming Max, we're not putting that loss on Jalen whatsoever," Stoops said. "There's a lot of people that could do things better starting with me. Max, he came in there and did some good things, and Jalen did some good things as well, just like we thought he would. There were some critical errors from both quarterbacks.  So we need to improve at that position.  We just feel like Max gives us the best opportunity this week."

Whitlow completed only two passes for negative-four yards in the second quarter Saturday, when the Wildcat offense became one-dimensional. Still, he showed ability with his legs. He ran for a touchdown, and did a solid job leading the team.

But it was a bit of a departure for an offense that had been billed as "air raid" during the offseason. Coordinator Neal Brown has posted passing and total offensive numbers in the top 10 in the nation at every stop.

Smith has produced as a passer. He started in three games, completing nearly 69 percent of his passes (103 of 150) in four starts last season before suffering a season-ending injury early in the fourth game. He threw for eight touchdowns and four interceptions.

While WKU coach Bobby Petrino blamed himself for becoming too conservative on defense once Smith entered, the sophomore still completed eight of 13 passes.

Stoops said he still expects to use Whitlow in spots, but added, "If Max is going out there and rolling and things are going good, then we'll stay with Max. Yes, we want Jalen to play, and we believe he can bring some diversity to our package and make some people prepare for some different things with his skill set.  So, yes, we will always have him ready to go."

In the end, however, is the basic question of what UK wants to be on offense. Does it want to build around a quick-strike passing attack, or a dual-threat quarterback. Stoops said in the end, it's just about what will give the Wildcats the best chance to win. That may change game to game.

"People were saying, you know, are we air raid?  Are we running?  Hey, man, we're trying to win," Stoops said. "We're trying to do whatever we have to do to win games to put our players in a position to be successful on all sides of the ball."

Quarterback, however, is far from the only issue Stoops and his staff are grappling with after one game. He said he didn't think his team showed enough fire before the game, didn't maintain its defensive discipline and got away at times from some fundamental things the staff had tried to get into place.

He didn't want to single out any one unit, but continued to stress that the team needs a dramatic overall improvement.

"I'm not one to sit here and throw anybody under the bus," Stoops said. "I said it from the very beginning.  It's our job to put them in a position to be successful.  That's still our job. Players have responsibilities, sure.  The big thing for me is just finding the right chemistry and psychologically getting them ready to play, getting them over the hump. I saw some wide eyes out there on Saturday, and we got to get over that.  We've got to cut it loose and play.

". . . I know how important the first game was, and I understand the momentum that we had and have, and I understand that's    it's a quick trip.  People are going to jump off that bandwagon quick. That's all right.  We're not worried about all that.  We're worried about getting better.  Win or lose.  I said that to the team.  Win or lose, back to work on Sunday.  We know we have to improve, whether we won the game or lost the game. Sure we wanted to win.  We put a lot into it to win.  We just didn't do it good enough at any level.  It's back to work today."

As Stoops walked off the field Saturday, UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart was quick to walk up alongside him and to give him an overwhelmingly positive message on his way to the locker room.

"Just supportive," Stoops said of Barnhart's message. "You know, he and I know the reality of the situation, and we know there's a lot to do.  I appreciate the support, but nobody puts more pressure on anybody than myself and the staff. Again, we're disappointed.  We know we could have done things better, and we plan on doing that and we're excited to get back to work. That's the nice thing about us as coaches and our team, we don't have a whole lot of time to dwell on things or to celebrate.  So it's back to work."

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