It’s been business as usual for Smith ahead of debut as UK’s starting QB

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Sawyer Smith
Sawyer Smith will make his first start as Kentucky's quarterback when the Wildcats take on Florida in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams Saturday at Kroger Field, (Kentucky Today/Keith Taylor)

By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today

LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Sawyer Smith is set for his debut as Kentucky’s starting quarterback. 

“I”m getting comfortable out there with the game plan,” Smith said Wednesday. “I’m throwing it to everybody and I’m good to go.”

Previously a backup, the Troy transfer was thrust into the starting role after veteran Terry Wilson suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Wildcats’ win over Eastern Michigan last week. In preparation for Kentucky’s Southeastern Conference opener against Florida, it has been business as usual for Smith in practice this week.

“(My emotions) have kind of been the same,” he said. “I’ve been practicing like a starter since fall camp, so I could get used to the new offense. Nothing has really changed. Obviously, it’s a different role, but nothing has really changed.”

Smith has gotten solid feedback from his teammates and said they have responded to the transition in a positive manner.

“I feel like they are (rallying around me),” Smith said. “I feel like we’ve been practicing good this week from an offensive standpoint, and what we have been doing has been good.”

Smith played under former Kentucky offensive coordinator and receiver Neal Brown at Troy and said the two offensive schemes are “very similar.”

“Obviously coach (Neal) Brown and coach (Eddie) Gran are two different people, two different ideas and two different mindsets. It’s different in some aspects, but in most aspects it’s about the same,” he said. 

Brown praised Smith’s performances while at Troy earlier this week. Smith has experience as a starter and threw for 76 yards and a pair of touchdowns after he replaced Wilson late in the second half against Eastern Michigan. His first throw as a Wildcat was a 54-yard touchdown strike to Ahmad Wagner. 

“I thought he did an admirable job (last year),” Brown said. “He played his best game in his last game in the bowl game. I hate to hear about Kentucky’s quarterback. I think Sawyer will step up.”

Smith knows the Gators will be a higher caliber of competition, but also has confidence in Kentucky’s offensive line. 

“They’re pretty good with the pass rush but I’m standing behind five guys who are really good at pass protection and run blocking. I’m pretty confident in those guys in front of me. “

Even while at Troy, Smith played against bigger teams, such as Nebraska, where he ripped off a 57-yard run against the Cornhuskers and said the Gators will provide speed and size on the defensive side of the ball.

“I’ve been in college for a little while now and so I’ve played against teams that are pretty big,” he said. “I played against Nebraska last year and they are probably one of the biggest teams you can play against. They’re probably not as fast as Florida is going to be, but I’ve seen speed and I’ve seen size. It’s going to be both of them put together. It’s going to be fun.”

Although it will be his first action against an SEC foe, Smith has been there and done that and is prepared for the task at hand.

“They’re both about the same situation,” he said. “I have the experience that most people don’t have when they get in this situation. It’s good experience to have and makes you feel more comfortable.” 

Gametracker: Florida at Kentucky, 7 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: ESPN, UK Radio Network

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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