COLUMBIA — For the second consecutive week, South Carolina will face a team whose quarterback is trying to heal in time to prepare for the Gamecocks’ ferocious defense.
Last week, it was Missouri’s James Franklin, who missed the Arizona State win with a shoulder injury, but returned against USC and struggled (11-of-18 passing, 92 yards, three sacks).
This week, it is Kentucky sophomore Maxwell Smith. He missed last week’s 38-0 loss at Florida after bruising the AC joint in his right (throwing) shoulder the previous week against Western Kentucky. He separated the shoulder last year at Georgia and missed the following week’s regular season finale against Tennessee.
Smith was expected to be OK for the Florida game, but was a game-day scratch. He threw this Tuesday even though he was only supposed to hand off, and his progress indicates that he likely will play against the Gamecocks.
“I expect by Saturday he’ll be real close,” Wildcats offensive coordinator Randy Sanders told reporters in Lexington.
Kentucky (1-3) is preparing true freshman Jalen Whitlow as the backup. Whitlow, a dynamic runner, threw his first career pass against Florida and was 1 of 6 for 12 yards. Senior Morgan Newton started the game and was a disaster: 7 of 21, 48 yards, three interceptions. Newton moved to H-back after the opener and got little practice at quarterback before Florida.
In last season’s 54-3 loss at USC, Newton was 4 of 21 for 17 yards and an interception. Smith was 0 of 3 with two interceptions.
Sanders will do all he can to protect Smith’s shoulder if he plays Saturday against USC.
“We can’t just drop back and leave him in the same spot all the time,” Sanders said. “If we do that, he’d probably get killed, as happens to any quarterback that plays South Carolina.”
USC free safety D.J. Swearinger returns this week after being suspended for last week’s win over Missouri by the Southeastern Conference for a helmet-to-helmet hit against UAB.
Last week, linebacker Shaq Wilson was already anticipating Swearinger’s return and said, “I feel bad for Kentucky.”
Does Swearinger agree with Wilson’s sentiments?
“I agree with it somewhat, because I got a chance to get a bye week that others couldn’t get, so I feel fresh and I’m ready to go,” he said.
As for post-suspension adjustments to his playing style, he said, “I won’t stop playing how I’m playing. I’ll just target lower.”
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips probably wasn’t fazed by USC coach Steve Spurrier’s comment Tuesday about the Wildcats: “I think we are better than them.” Though that wasn’t exactly a bold statement, Phillips is used to Spurrier’s candid remarks.
After Kentucky’s Ryan Tydlacka punted nine times for a 44.2-yard average in last season’s meeting, Spurrier said, “Kentucky has a heckuva punter. I know that.” He also said: “If we were really sharp today, as many opportunities as the offense had, we could have scored 70 or 80 points.”
But Phillips said he wouldn’t put those comments on Kentucky’s bulletin board.
“Steve’s going to say things like that,” Phillips said. “If I put everything that Steve said up there, we wouldn’t have any space on our board.”