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Max Smith got his turn in the pocket and made the most of the opportunity.
In his most extensive action at Kentucky, the backup quarterback completed 26 of 33 passes for 174 yards Saturday night in the WildcatsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ 28-16 loss to Mississippi State at CommonwealthÃ¢â‚¬Ë†Stadium.
Smith took over for starter Morgan Newton on KentuckyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s third series. Newton suffered a shoulder and knee injury and didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t return.
Prior to getting the call Saturday, Smith made spot appearances in KentuckyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s lopsided losses to Florida and South Carolina and started the second half of a loss at LSU. His seven completions in those three games went for 50 yards.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“This was a different game,Ã¢â‚¬Â Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“He went in and competed.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I felt more relaxed,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Having that experience in those first (three) games where I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t play well at all was huge. I started off a little shaky, messed up a couple of plays, but after that I was good (and) the nerves settled down.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Smith completed eight passes on 11 attempts in the first half for 25 yards. He threw for 91 yards in the third quarter, and his most impressive completion was a 19-yard strike to Matt Roark after getting hit in the pocket in the quarter.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He took some big hits, but got himself off the ground, came back in and made some other big plays,Ã¢â‚¬Â Phillips said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what we talk about every day, when someone goes down, the next guyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s got to step up, go in and compete, even if itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a freshman.Ã¢â‚¬Â
SmithÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s favorite target was Roark, who also made an 18-yard catch on a third-down play in the second half and another catch for 23 yards. Roark, who caught 13 passes for 116 yards, helped Smith feel more at ease in the pocket.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re good friends and I throw a lot to him,Ã¢â‚¬Â Smith said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been working after practice and twice (last week) we were throwing (to each other). I threw a lot to him from the get-go when I first got here and me and him have a good camaraderie.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Smith and Roark became friends when Smith arrived on campus and have been close ever since.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I just wanted to be kind of like his big brother and help him out, because I could tell heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to be a great player and I just wanted to be there for him,Ã¢â‚¬Â Roark said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We work a lot together and it shows. We have a chemistry.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Brian Adams made a diving catch on an 11-yard strike from Smith on fourth and six in the fourth quarter to set up a touchdown.
SmithÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s performance leaves Phillips and his staff with a decision going into this weekÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s game against Mississippi.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He played good enough that we will have to make a decision (on who will be the starter),Ã¢â‚¬Â Phillips said.
Although heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s in the mix to be the starter, Smith isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t changing his approach.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m just going to prepare like I do every other week (and) just go with the flow,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said.