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The UK football team’s attempt to rebound from a 1-4 start to the season became more difficult Monday with the news that sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith is out indefinitely with a torn ligament in his left ankle.
Smith will undergo surgery on his ankle and may miss the rest of the season, UK head coach Joker Phillips announced Monday. If Smith does not return this year, UK will apply to the NCAA for a medical hardship.
“Obviously, he’s down, based on how hard he’s worked,” Phillips said of Smith. “Not only has he worked hard to be able to play, he’s playing at a high level.”
Smith has completed 68.7 percent of his passes (103-150) on the season for 975 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions. He missed UK’s loss to Florida with a bruised shoulder but returned to start against South Carolina before being injured on his second offensive play of the game.
With Smith out for the foreseeable future, UK will abandon its plan to redshirt freshman quarterback Patrick Towles, Phillips said.
“That was what we had talked about the last couple of weeks: if Max was going to be out for a significant amount of time, we’ll pull the redshirt off and play (Towles),” he said. “That’s what we intend to do.”
Freshman Jalen Whitlow played Saturday after Smith’s injury and is listed as the first-team quarterback on the depth chart this week. He completed 12 of 23 pass attempts for 114 yards and two interceptions and added six net rushing yards and a rushing touchdown on 16 carries against South Carolina.
Both freshmen quarterbacks will play for the Wildcats.
“It’s going to take an effort of both of them,” Phillips said. “It could be right in the middle of a series. If it’s not series to series, it could be play, after play, after play. Give them things they both can do and give them a chance to go out and play and compete.”
Towles was the only four-star recruit in UK’s 2012 signing class, according to Rivals.com. He was named the 2012 Kentucky Mr. Football after leading Highlands High School to three consecutive state championships.
As a senior, Towles completed 171 of 279 passes (61.3 percent) for 3,820 yards, 42 touchdowns and one interception. He also ran for 589 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Whitlow is considered the more mobile of the two freshmen quarterbacks, meaning they could give opponents different looks when playing in the same game.
“Jalen was signed here as an athlete/quarterback, so he should move around a little better,” Phillips said. “(Towles) is more of a pocket passer than Jalen.”
Mississippi State visits Commonwealth Stadium Saturday coming off a bye week, but any advantage of an extra week of preparation for UK appears to have been negated with the quarterback change.
“I think it is exciting because I can tell you this: The team we’re about to play has no idea what they’re about to get,” Phillips said. “We really don’t know what we’re about to get, but we’re going for it.”
Phillips also announced Monday that junior safety Dakotah Tyler is out for the season with a torn ACL. Senior tight end Gabe Correll will not play against Mississippi State. Phillips listed sophomore safety Miles Simpson and senior tailback CoShik Williams as day-to-day. He expects redshirt freshman offensive lineman Zach West and junior tailback Raymond Sanders to play Saturday.