We are less than two weeks away from the Cats and the Cards kicking off the 2012 football season at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Over the next few weeks StraitCats. com will be breaking down the Wildcats position by position. We start with those under center…the quarterbacks.
Sophomore Maxwell Smith (6-4, 224) came to UK from California with little to no fanfare at all. But, after Morgan Newton struggled through the middle portion of the season and then suffered a shoulder injury last year, it was Smith that was thrust under center. He didn’t set the world on fire, completing 84-of-153 passes for 819 yards and four touchdowns in eight games and three starts.
But, he showed excellent field presence and accuracy under center, two things that Newton struggled with. His familiarity with the playbook and understanding of the offense seem to be the key reason that Joker Phillips and the staff will name Smith the starter. And this was his reputation out of high school. This is a kid that scored 1480 on his SAT and even as a high school senior was glorified for his ability to read defenses and coverages.
It’s hard to believe that UK has a senior quarterback that beat both Georgia and Auburn on the road during his freshman season entering the year as the flimsy at best backup quarterback. And I say flimsy at best because if Smith struggles, most UK fans will be clamoring for the quarterback below instead of Morgan Newton (6-4, 240). Still, you can’t ignore the experience that Newton has and there isn’t a coaching staff in America that wouldn’t take someone with that experience as their number two quarterback.
The knock on Newton is his accuracy and decision making. Last season he started eight games, completing 83 of 174 passes, which is good for just 48-percent. A quarterback completion percentage under 50-percent just isn’t going to cut it. He threw for 793 yards and eight touchdowns and his best game came against rival Louisville when he threw for 255 yards and two touchdowns.
Newton had shoulder surgery during the offseason and was forced to miss spring practice because of the injury. Still, he has worked hard to put himself in position to be named starting quarterback once again. The kid who came to Kentucky with a ton of hype and led the team to two huge road wins during his freshman season would love nothing more than to get an opportunity to prove his worth after last season’s struggles. Only problem is that the opportunity may never take place.
There is no denying that No. 14 Patrick Towles is the future at quarterback for the Wildcats. The 2012 Mr. Football in Kentucky is an imposing 6’5″, 242-pounds and led Fort Thomas Highlands High School to three consecutive state championships. As a senior completed 171 of 279 passes, good for 62-percent, for 3,820 yards with 42 touchdowns and just one pick. He is known for his big arm, but also surprising people with his rushing ability. He also rushed for 589 yards and 15 touchdowns his senior year.
The four-star recruit and grandson of Hall of Famer Jim Bunning was the key get for Joker and the staff in the 2011 class. There has been talk of him redshirting, but if Smith struggles then if will be very difficult for Joker to ignore the fans’ chants for Towles. And don’t expect the fans to be very patient with the UK offense after last year’s struggles.
Fourth and fifth on the depth chart are freshmen Jalen Whitlow and Jeff Witthuhn. Expect both to be redshirted. Whitlow is 6’2″, 202-pounds and is out of Prattvile, Alabama. In his senior year he led Prattvile HS to the Class 6A State Championship. He spent time at both quarterback and wideout and was not the team’s full-time QB. He is a playmater is comes in as the No. 12 dual threat QB recruit in the nation.
Witthuhn is 6’3″, 235-pounds and is out of Greenwood High School in Bowling Green. He is a preferred walk-on and also considered walking on at Western Kentucky. He threw for 1,527 yards and 10 touchdowns, while leading the Greenwood with 576 yards rushing and 14 rushing touchdowns. On the defensive side of the ball he recorded 48 tackles and picked off four passes.
Bottom line is that the UK offense has to score more points in 2012 if they want to win more games. You can’t allow your defense to feel like they have to pitch a shutout every game to have a chance to win and that was the case last year.
The coaching staff has praised the improvement at the wide receiver and tight end positions during spring practice and leading up to the 2012 season. That is big news for whoever the quarterback is because there is no denying that the pass catchers played a huge role in the quarterbacks’ struggles a year ago.
To win games, you have to score points and that falls directly on the shoulders of the quarterback. When you look at the UK quarterback depth chart, you see a lot of options. But, immediately it brings to thought the old adage, what is better…quality or quantity? Kentucky has a lot of options at the QB position, but somebody is going to have to step up and provide consistency under center.
Joker, Randy Sanders and the rest of the UK staff hope that guy is Maxwell Smith.
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