By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today
LEXINGTON — Mark Stoops isn’t concerned about his football team after starting quarterback Terry Wilson went down with a season-ending knee injury in a 38-17 win over Eastern Michigan last weekend.
Stoops is confident in backup Sawyer Smith’s ability to lead the Wildcats and the former Troy signal caller will get his first start with the Wildcats against ninth-ranked Florida in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams set for 7 p.m. Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.
“I think that’s a big deal that Sawyer has been through this, so it’s nothing new to him,” Stoops said Monday. “He has a lot of confidence. This game or any game won’t be too big to him. He’ll be very comfortable out there and stay within himself and rely on his players around him to make plays.”
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 strike to Ahmad Wagner.
“You never want to see the injuries and that to happen to anybody, but when you’re building a program, it’s always — there’s a bit of excitement to see the next man up and see how they respond and see how they handle himself. And he’ll play well.”
Under Wilson’s leadership, the Wildcats (2-0) compiled a 12-3 record — second behind Alabama — during the past 15 games. Stoops is confident Smith can build on Wilson’s successes during the remainder of the season.
“You have to earn that leadership. You know, it doesn’t come with the position,” Stoops said. “It just comes from the way you handle yourself in earning the respect from his teammates and finding his voice, whatever way it is. I think Sawyer did a nice job, again, in respect of his team by having his voice the way he was.
“He had great command of the offense when he was in there, didn’t try to force anything. He is who he is, and he handles himself very good. And with that the way he goes out and plays, he’ll get more and more of those opportunities to earn that trust and to be in a leadership position. So I don’t anticipate that being any issue at all with him.”
Stoops said the Wildcats “feel for Terry” and “can’t understate it what he’s done for us.”
“He’s a remarkable young man, and you know that position takes some thick skin, and you gotta be very confident and be tough-minded, and he’s been that,” Stoops said. “He’s worked really hard. And hasn’t been perfect, but he’s led us to a lot of winning in the past 15 games he’s been here. So, you know, we’re definitely going to miss him. But you have to bounce back. You have to be resilient, and we have to move on. And I’m confident our team will do that.”
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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 email@example.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.