October 16, 2013
Max Smith has gone from incumbent to backup to starter to backup and back to starter.
Barring an unexpected change, Smith will be the full-time quarterback against Mississippi State in a week and a half.
He's trying to iron out some issues in that time span. As Smith himself stated, he's not playing up to his "full potential" yet this season. He's completing 55.4 percent of his passes for 710 yards (13.9 yards per completion, 7.7 yards per attempt) with five touchdowns and one interception.
Part of the problem in evaluating Smith's play: the dichotomy of UK's schedule to date.
Take out Miami (Ohio) -- a team I truly believe to be one of the worst in college football -- and Smith is completing 52 percent of his passes for 400 yards (11.4 yards per completion, 5.9 yards per attempt) with one touchdown and one interception.
Those numbers are underwhelming. Of course, those numbers also came against three defenses ranked inside the top 10 (Louisville, Florida and Alabama) and Western Kentucky.
Let's analyze some components of Smith's passing individually, then. First, the overall look at Smith's passing chart through UK's first six games:
Let's break that down into some segments:
-- Passes behind the line of scrimmage, mostly screens or check-downs: 15-for-19 (78.9 percent)
-- Passes thrown 0-10 yards past the line of scrimmage: 21-for-38 (55.2 percent)
-- Passes thrown 10-20 yards past the line of scrimmage: 9-for-20 (45 percent)
-- Passes thrown 20+ yards past the line of scrimmage: 6-for-15 (40 percent)
The declining rates aren't an issue. That's how all quarterbacks will be. The 20+ category is a bit concerning when you consider that, excluding the Miami (Ohio) game, Smith is 3-for-11. But, for what it's worth, Smith feels like his deep-ball passing is fine.
"I can make any throw on the field," Smith said. "If I have to launch the ball 60 yards for a go route I can do that too."
But here's a different way of looking at it:
-- Passes thrown in between the hash marks: 15-for-24 (62.5 percent)
-- Passes thrown in between the hash marks and the numbers: 21-for-35 (60 percent)
-- Passes thrown in between the numbers and the sideline: 15-for-33 (45.5 percent)
That outside area is the concerning one. As a pocket passer posing no threat of running, Smith has to be able to make all the throws. Although he hasn't looked very good throwing downfield, those outside ones -- especially the sideline throws from 0-15 yards past the line of scrimmage -- are way more important in this offense, in my opinion.
Much of his struggles throwing to the outside are because of either forced throws where he misreads coverage or a lack of velocity. If a ball can't make it to the outside quickly enough, defenders have plenty of time to break on it and make a play. Smith himself told me a couple weeks ago that he judges his own velocity based on out-route throws.
"He’s not using his lower body, which causes him to lose velocity on those maybe hash to sideline throws," Brown said Wednesday in assessing Smith. "When he uses his lower body, he’s got no issues whatsoever, he’s got plenty of arm strength."