- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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The quarterback race at Kentucky has come to an end, as coach Joker Phillips announced Monday that sophomore Maxwell Smith will be the Wildcats' starter for the Sept. 2 opener at Louisville.
“The first thing I would like to say is how proud I am of Max and Morgan (Newton) and how they have handled this,” Phillips said. “They have both done a great job of preparing and both done a great job of competing. When I was asked about this position (head coach), and the difference going from one chair to another, was the difference is having to make the tough decisions and be accountable for them. This is one of the tougher decisions I have had to make. We have two quarterbacks that we feel like we can win with, but the guy that gives us the best chance to win at this point (gets the job.)
"Max Smith, we feel, gives us the best chance to win at this point and he will be our starting quarterback versus Louisville.”
Smith competed with Newton, a senior, and freshmen Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow for the starting spot. One advantage that Smith had was that he took all of the first-team snaps this spring while Newton recovered from shoulder surgery. Newton returned to the competition this fall, but Phillips said Smith was more consistent as he become more and more comfortable with the Wildcats' offense.
“This is what I have been working for since I was a little kid to get a chance to start for an SEC team,” Smith said. “I am glad to be where I am and I am looking forward to having a good season. … I was just wanting to go out and work as hard as I could and that is what it was all about.”
Smith played in eight games last fall, starting three. He was named a freshman All-SEC player by the league's coaches after completing 84 of 153 passes for 819 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions. Smith replaced Newton toward the end of last season after Newton suffered an ankle and shoulder injury.
But with the way Newton had played to that point, it was likely Smith was going to finish out the season as the starter, regardless of Newton's injuries.
The Wildcats can now move on with the offense and begin game planning around Smith and his abilities. This teams struggled mightily on offense last year because it just couldn't find multiple, consistent playmakers, but the quarterback play really set this offense back. Smith has to be more consistent and productive if Kentucky wants to make offensive improvements this fall.