LEXINGTON — Heavy rains in the Lexington area forced the University of Kentucky football team to practice indoors at the Nutter Field House as preparations begin for No. 6 South Carolina. The Wildcats and Gamecocks will kickoff at 7 p.m. Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.
Must of the focus on the team the last few days has been the health of starting quarterback Maxwell Smith, who did not play last week against Florida because of a shoulder injury. Smith wasn’t expected to resume practice until Wednesday, but offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said after practice Tuesday that Smith practiced and felt “pretty good.”
“Max felt pretty good today so he did practice,” Sanders said. “The original plan was for him to not throw much today, but he felt good so we went ahead and practiced him. We tried to limit his throws just a little bit but he looked good and felt good. He is not 100 percent yet, but I expect by Saturday he will be really close. We will see how he is doing in the morning and judge on how well he feels.”
Sanders said true freshman Jalen Whitlow got most of the snaps as the No. 2 quarterback Tuesday. Sanders said what makes Whitlow an option at quarterback is his speed and running ability.
“The thing Jalen can do and the advantage that young guys always have is their ability to run,” Sanders said. “That is the one thing he has. If he doesn’t know what is going on in the passing game he can pull it down and make yards … That is the thing that showed up most in fall scrimmages.”
Looking back at the Florida game, Sanders said there were some positives the team could take from the loss, especially how well they ran the football against a solid defensive front. That trend of stout defensive lines continues this week against South Carolina, who ranks seventh nationally in sacks and 22nd nationally in tackles-for-loss. Sanders said not only does the Gamecocks’ ability to get off the ball cause problems, but so does their height.
“I see a lot of big, fast, athletic guys,” Sanders said. “Their defense front is far and away the best defensive front we will have seen this year. Not only are they fast but they are tall. You got ends and the shortest one is 6-5. They are really good on defense, really active, really athletic up front … Their front makes you get it out of your hand so quick.”
Defensive coordinator Rick Minter took different approach in describing the defense’s performance Saturday at Florida. Minter said he felt things got better, but there are still some areas of improvement.
“We kind of got better but we didn’t,” Minter said about the defense’s performance at Florida. “Until the end result changes and we get better on third down, 12-of-17; until we get better at stopping the run, 200 yards, the result is not going to change. It comes in spurts. If you get off to a good start it gives your team a chance. We are a young team and we are trying to build on something so we did build on those three-and-outs early.”
Scouting South Carolina, Minter said he expects a healthy cast of offensive power from the Gamecocks, including quarterback Connor Shaw and running back Marcus Lattimore. Minter said the current offensive scheme the Gamecocks are running was first installed last year against the Wildcats in Columbia.
“We except a full speed Connor Shaw, (Marcus) Lattimore and all the other cast and characters,” Minter said. “They run a lot of solid plays where they just try to get a hat on a hat and let Lattimore go. Then Connor Shaw will pull the ball every now and then and if you don’t cover him up then he can beat you just like the kid from Florida could. It’s a good offensive ball club. It is kind of a 12th-man syndrome when you can have a running quarterback like that you have to defend the extra added advantage for them but we have to find a way.”