November 9, 2011

Smith moving on after first start

How long did Maxwell Smith celebrate beating Ole Miss in his first career start?

Just long enough to realize there was another opponent waiting.

"I gave it 24 hours to enjoy the win with the team, soak it up," he said. "After that, come into film the next day. My mindset is on Vanderbilt now."

Smith was known for being found in the film room late at night and often during the summer, when he had spare time. He didn't do as much extra work on his own earlier this fall, though, as he focused on class work.

That's changed, though, since becoming the starter.

"I'm definitely in the film room every day now," Smith said. "I have to be."

Smith still has a long way to go to be where offensive coordinator Randy Sanders wants him to be. Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips said the playbook won't greatly expand for Smith this week, though some new packages will be added to take advantages of weaknesses in Vanderbilt's defense.

"We ran 70-something plays (against Ole Miss) and he probably did exactly what he was supposed to maybe 15 of them," Sanders said. "The other 50 or so, we still have to work on. If he was really on point and knew what he was doing, he would have had a way bigger game."

That may sound like sharp criticism for a player who finished 19-36 for 283 yards and two touchdowns while leading the Wildcats to their first conference win, but it's also Sanders' way of coaching. Sanders pushed Smith to get ready in fall camp as his No. 2 quarterback even though he had no game experience.

Smith uses Sanders' criticism as a way to improve.

"He gets humbled when he comes back in here," Phillips said. "Coach Sanders has done a good job of keeping him level-headed. It helps to have (graduate assistant) Andre Woodson around, because I'm sure Andre got a lot of pats on the back too."

He's had more opportunities to improve recently as well. As a second string quarterback, Smith would only take about 30 percent of snaps in practice. The other 70 percent were reserved for the first string, Sanders said. Now that he's the starter, he gets all those extra reps.

Because he's still a true freshman, 'potential' is a word that is used a lot when Smith is being discussed. But Sanders will be the first to tell you he's seen plenty of guys come and go during his career that left their potential unfulfilled.

"Arm talent is a great thing and it's one of the things you want as a quarterback coach," Sanders said. "It makes things much easier, but it doesn't guarantee success in itself. Max has arm talent, and we're trying to work on those other things to guarantee success."

For instance, arm talent doesn't help decision-making. That figures to be a point of emphasis this week as Smith prepares for the Commodores, who rank fifth in the country with 15 interceptions.

"They're causing a lot of havoc in the passing game for a lot of teams," Smith said.

Smith's mistakes on Saturday were relatively minor, Sanders said. That's fine for now, but he'll have to clean them up, particularly before facing a defense as opportunistic as Vanderbilt's.

"Quarterback is the one position on the field where you can play 75 of them right, screw two of them up and the team loses," Sanders said.

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