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Mark Stoops didn’t need long conversation with Neal Brown to know he wanted Sawyer Smith at Kentucky

Sawyer Smith will make his first SEC start Saturday night. (Vicky Graff Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

Once Troy quarterback Sawyer Smith put his name into the transfer portal and indicated he had an interest in Kentucky it didn’t take long for UK coach Mark Stoops to have a conversation with his former offensive coordinator, Neal Brown.

Brown was Smith’s coach at Troy and had left to become head coach at West Virginia by the time Smith decided to transfer.

“I definitely had a conversation with Neal,” Stoops said on the SEC coaches’ teleconference Wednesday. “It only took one conversation with him (Brown).

“Neal and I are friends. We worked together. Obviously I trust Neal and his opinion. He had a lot of faith and confidence in Sawyer. It was not a long conversation.”

That’s because Brown had nothing but good things to say about Smith on and off the field. He was 5-2 as Troy’s starting quarterback after taking over at midseason in 2018 when Troy’s No. 1 quarterback went down with an injury. Now Smith takes over Saturday night for UK’s No. 1 quarterback, Terry Wilson, after he went out with a knee injury last week.

Stoops said again Wednesday there would be “no difference” in the way UK runs its offense against No. 9 Florida with Smith at quarterback instead of Wilson.

“Terry was really getting comfortable but we have a lot of confidence in Sawyer. It will be the next man up. Anxious to see him play,” Stoops said.

The UK coach called it a “very good pickup” when UK got Smith after backup quarterbacks Danny Clark and Gunnar Hoak transferred after the 10-3 finish in 2018.

“Obviously was very much needed in case of this situation that popped up here. It was very important for us to pick up Sawyer. We really felt like we got a great one in Sawyer,” Stoops said.

Smith’s backup now is redshirt sophomore Walker Wood, a player who had injuries each of his first two years.

“We have a lot of confidence in him but coming off injuries and not being healthy, it was important to get someone game ready,” Stoops said. “This environment will not be too big (for Smith). He has played in big games and won big games.”

Florida has 15 quarterback sacks in its two wins and Smith is not quite as mobile or fast as Wilson, something Stoops knows UK will miss against the Gators.

“Sawyer is very intelligent, very accurate and throws the ball down the field,” Stoops said. “I feel we have better players around him this year. We are improving at wide receiver. Certainly our O-line is very solid. Just got to play good around him.”

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