Let’s dive right in. Here’s this (you’ll love it):
I’m not treading new ground by agreeing with Stephen and saying “I love this s#&t,” but it is such an iconic sports quote that I just have to repeat it at a every possible opportunity.
UK’s backup QB marched into his biggest rival’s home stadium and said “I love this s#&t” with a smile on his face on THE very first play with the future Heisman winner on the other sideline.
And then he threw a 75-yard touchdown, his longest touchdown ever. Also, this is somewhat important: KENTUCKY UPSET LOUISVILLE. Ninth-ranked Louisville. In unrelated news, this was also the best day of my life.
But it’s a folk tale. Almost unbelievable. A story fit for a children’s book. A skinny unheralded quarterback from Rancho Cucamonga, a place seemingly named by aliens; humble, soft-spoken, feeble by QB standards. Practically a stickman.
And Lamar Jackson, a Heisman Trophy winner, the most dynamic college football player of the century, “even better than me,” according to Michael Vick. Stephen outdueled Lamar Jackson on his home field. (It’s just so sad that Papa John’s field experienced such dismay), won the game, set career highs in passing yards, touchdowns and smack talking.
It was a David and Goliath story—although my view on that story archetype is being blown to smithereens by Malcolm Gladwell’s novel David and Goliath, where Gladwell essentially explains that Goliath was a giant blind lemon and David was a marksman from distance with the rock and sling, a ridiculously deadly weapon in the B.C. sector of history.
Saturday, the situation repeats itself. Following Wilson’s torn patellar tendon, former Troy quarterback Sawyer Smith is set to start against a top-ten ranked Florida squad.
As a surface concept, UK can beat Florida with the backup quarterback. UK’s roster and program is so deep with quality SEC-caliber talent that losing one primary playmaker (even at QB) is only a setback that cane be overcome. Up until even last year with Benny Snell and Josh allen, Kentucky has always had one or two completely irreplaceable pieces (even Shane Falco wouldn’t have been enough if Benny went down in 2017).
This year, Wilson was seemingly UK’s most important player. But his absence hasn’t affected my confidence for the Florida game even a little bit. UK is better than Florida. UK was last year. The Gators are banged up. Kentucky/Florida games under Stoops have consistently been very close, and Kroger field will be ROCKING.
A good portion of my confidence comes from simply where Mark Stoops has the program. UK can compete with anyone aside from the tippy top of the CFB pecking order. Kentucky has arrived as a faint blip on the national radar.
Faint but still a gigantic step forward from the dungeon UK’s football program was in during the pun-filled Joker Phillips era. But UK’s quarterback situation inspires confidence as well.
Following the injury, new face of the offense Sawyer Smith performed quite well. Let’s take a look at Smith’s two touchdown receptions:
(Originally, I planned on examining all five of Sawyer’s completions, but the SEC Network decided to black out the illegal replay of the game on Youtube so I can’t gif them and paste them here for you guys to see. Sorry. So I’ll just go over his two scoring plays).
Sawyer Smith to Ahmad Wagner:
Smith took his UK baby steps last weekend. Thrusted right into the fire with the pressure on (most babies don’t have 60,000 people judging their every motion, unless you’re attending my family’s Christmas get together where we probably have 100K). His first step was a sprinting stride.
Sawyer holstered the snap, took two and a half steps back, and floated the first pass of his Kentucky career into a tight sideline window for Ahmad Wagner on a go route. Catch. Flag on the sorely out-matched CB. Touchdown anyways.
Perfect execution, flawless placement, extraordinary comfort! I sound like my friend Anna—an interior design major at UK—if she visited Meryl Streep’s character’s house in The Devil Wears Prada. Sawyer’s first pass was literally as perfect as it could be. I expect to see several repeats of this play on Saturday. Let’s move to TD pass no. 2.
Sawyer Smith to Lynn Bowden:
The goal line fade is THE dumbest play in sports. In accordance with my bad side, teams (NFL primarily) STILL float 50/50 balls into the corner of the end zone where, in most cases, the receiver either drops the ball because he has an A-list cornerback swallowing his breath OR the non-Tom Brady/Aaron Rodgers quarterback fails to deliver the perfect ball.
As it turns out, surprisingly, even great receivers struggle to get open on fade routes with 10 yards of space. I thought Super Bowl XLIX put this argument to bed after Pete Carroll stiff-armed Beast Mode (Marshawn Lynch), the Mariano Rivera of punching the ball in from a yard or two out, in favor of a goal line slant—which was intercepted—and sent the sports media world into a ferocious game of Hungry Hungry Hippo over varying versions of the “Pete Carroll is a idiot” take.
Nope! The goal line fade is still alive.
With Kentucky up big and giving future starter Sawyer Smith his first reps, I don’t mind the fade decision, but it better not become habit. Smith nailed it, too. Lynn jogged diagonally off the snap, floating into the end zone. Another two-step drop and fling by Smith, a Bowden half-push and an easy catch for six.
Smith, again, beamed with confidence and released the pass with a gentleness most QBs fail to reach. He’s still throwing the football hard and far but he maintains a level of total zen with the football when it’s in the air. He throws the ball like he’s tossing an egg 40 yards and doing everything possible to keep it from shattering. Beautiful.
Smith has a HECK of an arm, is experienced as a starting quarterback and can deliver the long ball with precision. High hopes for Sawyer vs. the Gators.