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By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown has heard the chatter about where his Air Raid offense went last week against Western Kentucky.
The Wildcats ran for 216 yards — and averaged 6.8 yards per attempt — and threw for 203 yards in the season-opening 35-26 loss. However, 125 of the passing yards came in the fourth quarter when Maxwell Smith, who will start Saturday against Miami (Ohio), replaced Jalen Whitlow at quarterback.
“We’re going to do what we need to do to win. That’s what we’re going to do. And here’s the deal: We’re young at wideout. We’ve got some guys, we’re getting better, but we’re young at wideout. And we’ve got some new starters up front. So I think you go in and you do what you’ve got to do to win the game,” said Brown. “And we felt like early in the game, what we did on Saturday gave us our best chance. And it did.
“We didn’t play like we wanted to (but) bottom line is it’s 24-17 and we had two drives to take the lead coming out of the third quarter. We didn’t take advantage of those. If we executed better, who knows? Then Max came in the game, and we threw the ball almost every snap there in the fourth quarter and we had some success. So we’ll see.”
Here’s what else Brown had to say after Wednesday’s practice about his first game at UK and looking ahead with the offense.
Question: Has Smith been any different since being named the starter?
Brown: “I think that comfort is a good word for that. It’s hard to be a leader as a backup. I think you can, but it’s hard. I thought he did a good job during the game until he went in went in giving energy and supporting his teammates on the sidelines. I definitely agree with that. I think it’s easier as a starter, no matter what position and especially at quarterback, to be a leader.”
Question: Why is Smith the starter?
Brown: “Well, he just made some more plays. I thought he did a better job handling the environment, and he played well enough, he led us on some scoring drives there. So, we felt like that he gave us the best opportunity this week.”
Question: Does the run game change with Smith at quarterback?
Brown: “No, not really. No, not really. I think we talked about this back during preseason camp. The run plays are basically the same. It’s how we – on our inside zone and our outside zone how we take care of the edge changes a little bit depending on who’s in, whether it’s Jalen or Max. I don’t think we’ll have any called runs. We may surprise Miami with that. I guess they better work it.”
Question: Could Smith be a player who performs better in games than practices?
Brown: “I’m not real sure. I have a hard time – I don’t believe in gamers really. I just don’t think they exist. I think he played better in the game, but I still think he’s capable of playing better in a scrimmage. I think he’s capable of playing a lot better in the game. I think he did some good things when he played the last two years. He needs to be a better player when he starts the game than at any point he’s been during his career.”
Question: What did Smith do better in the game than he did in preseason scrimmages?
Brown: “I think he was more productive. In the scrimmages, he wasn’t as productive as he was on Saturday. I guess he had three drives, and all three of them were points — I’d like to think the one that Ryan (Timmons) fumbled would have been also. We’ve got 1st-and-10 on the 26, so…”
Question: How has Timmons responded to his debut where he had a big run but lost the fumble?
Brown: “Those guys are going to get a little better every week. The Ryan Timmonses, the Jeff Badets, the Alex Montgomerys — he’s been a little sick, he’s better now — Jojo Kemps. Those guys are going to get a little better ever week. When you play young guys, you’ve got to be ready. There’s going to be some ups and downs, and I knew that coming into it. I don’t condone fumbling — and we work ball security really hard — but I thought he did some good things with the ball in his hands. He’ll be a bigger part of the game plan this week. But there’s going to be some ups and downs when you’re playing young people.”
Question: How did the receivers block?
Brown: “I wasn’t pleased. I wasn’t pleased with how our inside receivers blocked. Our tight ends and our H’s (slot receivers), I think we’ve gotta block a lot better. That’s one thing we really prided ourselves at, at the other stops I’ve been at, is being really physical on the inside. And I didn’t think we were.”
Question: How did you assess the overall offensive play last week?
Brown: “Here’s what I think: We did some good things. There’s a little bit — comfort’s not the right word, but we had some moments. We ran the ball effectively for sure, especially on some big plays. I was not pleased with how we ran the ball on first down. Did not run the ball in that situation, and I really think that’s what hurt us. If we could’ve gotten going on first down a little bit more, we would’ve run more plays, we’d have had a chance to get them more fatigued and really set the pace that we wanted to play with.
“I’m disappointed in how we played; I’m disappointed because we didn’t win the game; I’m disappointed that we only ran 60 plays; I’m disappointed that we had six penalties before the ball was snapped. But if we can pay attention to details and we can get more physical, we can play winning football on our side of the ball. That’s what I told the kids when I got in front of them, and I really believe that.”