Kentucky's season outlook went from bad to worse Monday when it was announced that Wildcat quarterback Maxwell Smith will require potential season-ending surgery.
Smith, a sophomore who was leading the SEC in passing after the first three weeks of the season, tore ligaments in his left ankle on UK's second play from scrimmage of Saturday's 38-17 loss to South Carolina.
UK head coach Joker Phillips said during Monday's weekly press luncheon that Smith is out indefinitely. If he cannot return to action this season, the staff will apply for a medical redshirt.
"He's down, obviously," Phillips said of Smith. "He has worked his tail off to get in the position to be playing major college football, and he was a guy that wasn't signed until March after his senior year of football.
"Not only has he worked hard to be able to play, he's playing at a high level also, and then to have an injury in game three and not able to play game four, and then two plays into game five being injured."
Smith sustained a shoulder injury against Western Kentucky in the third game of the season, forcing him out of the Florida game. The Wildcats went with veteran Morgan Newton as the starter against the Gators, but after he completed only seven of 21 attempts and tossed three interceptions, UK called on freshman Jalen Whitlow on Saturday against South Carolina.
Whitlow played well in the first half, including an 8-yard touchdown run that staked the Cats to a 10-3 lead, but could not solve the Gamecock defense in the second half. He finished the game 12 of 23 for 114 yards with two interceptions while taking six sacks. UK had only 60 yards of total offense in the second half and failed to cross midfield as South Carolina reeled off 31 unanswered points.
Phillips said Smith's injury means the Cats will take the redshirt off another freshman, 2011 Kentucky "Mr. Football" Patrick Towles. The former Highlands standout will receive reps as UK's backup quarterback this week in preparation for Saturday's game against visiting Mississippi State.
"We'll have to play them both," Phillips said. "It's going to take an effort of both of them. And it could be right in the middle of the series. If it's not series to series, it could be play after play after play, switching them in and out, give them things that they both can do, give them a chance to go out and play and compete."
It's not an ideal situation, but Phillips attempted to put a positive spin on it Monday. Asked if he felt like he's been "snakebitten" this season, he said: "I don't. I know it has to be crazy, the thought of putting freshman quarterbacks out there, but on the other hand, there's something exciting about it, too, that you know -- let's see what we've got. We think these guys can do it. Let's see what we've got.
"I think it's exciting because I can tell you this: the team we're about to play has no idea what they're about to get. We really don't know what we're about to get (either), but we're going to go for it."
Where Whitlow came to UK with the reputaiton as a dangerous dual-threat quarterback, Towles was labeled a four-star prospect largely on the strength of his right arm. He led Highlands to a 38-1 record and three state championships during his time as a starter for the Bluebirds. He passed for 3,820 yards and 42 touchdowns with only one interception as a senior.
* Smith wasn't the only major injury news on Monday. Phillips said junior safety Dakotah Tyler tore an ACL in his knee Saturday against South Carolina and will be out of action until next summer.
* Linebacker/safety Miles Simpson and running back CoShik Williams are listed as day to day with minor injuries. Williams missed the South Carolina game due to a strained hip. Linebacker/safety Josh Forrest and safety Ashely Lowery are expected to return to action after missing last week's game.
* The SEC announced that UK's game Oct. 13 at Arkansas will kick off at 7 p.m. on FSN.