By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today
LEXINGTON — Sawyer Smith hasn’t lost his competitive edge. Neither have his teammates.
“I think this team is very hungry,” the Kentucky quarterback said. “We’ve got to fight … and we’re hungry. You can tell (because) we were very (upbeat Wednesday). I think that’s really good to see, especially on a Wednesday. We’re hungry right now.”
Earlier this week, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops wasn’t even sure if Smith would be able to play in Saturday’s road encounter at South Carolina. Smith was banged up in last week’s 28-13 loss at Mississippi State. Smith admitted his shoulder was sore, but returned to practice on Monday.
“It’s fine,” Smith said. “I’ve gotten a lot of reps this week. (The shoulder) is sore but it’s fine.”
Smith was thrust into the lineup after starter Terry Smith went down with a season-ending knee injury in a loss to Eastern Michigan. Smith said he’s starting to settle into a routine going into his third game as the team’s starting signal-caller.
“I’m just trying to have a good time with it,” he said. “Not a lot of people get an opportunity to do this in the SEC and I’m just trying to take advantage of my time, make this team as good as I can make it, get some wins and keep it rolling.”
In addition, Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran is getting a feel for Smith in the pocket and added he’s getting more comfortable as well.
“I feel like I’ve got a good gauge on Sawyer now after four games,” Gran said. “I feel good (and) confident about how we’re going into this week.”
Smith threw the ball 41 times and 232 yards in the loss to the Bulldogs. He also was sacked three times and Gran said the experience was beneficial to both parties.
“I put him in a bad situation on Saturday.” Gran said. “I know what he can do and he saw his mistakes and what he can get better at and I think he will continue to get better as we move on this season. I’ve got to help him out too, I’ve got to do better.”
“I feel like you can always get better just watching the film and coming here into practice,” Smith added. “I’ve been working on my check-downs and not forcing things.”
Although a fan of throwing downfield, Smith added he needs to be more patient in the pocket and let the plays happen instead of trying to force the issue.
“If you get a chance at a deep ball, you’ve got to take it,” he said. “If it’s not a good look, take it down. That’s what I learned from (last Saturday).”
Despite Smith’s past experiences, Gran said the Troy transfer is still learning Kentucky’s offensive schemes.
“It goes back down to discipline and focus that’s all it is,” Gran said. “We’ve got to put it all together for everybody at the end of the day. You’ve got to throw and catch, block people, we’ve people open and it’s an (offensive) lineman, its the running back, it’s the receiver, it’s the quarterback it’s our job as coaches to get that corrected.
“We’ve got to be more consistent, especially when we go out on the road for us to win this football game Saturday night.”
Smith is winless in two starts but added he’s ready to change the trend, starting with the Gamecocks.
“We want this win about as much as anybody could want it.” Smith said. “That’s not going to be a problem with us wanting it more or less than they do. We’re hungry. We’re going to go down there ready to play.”
Gametracker: Kentucky at South Carolina, 7:30 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at email@example.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.