True freshman quarterback Maxwell Smith will make his first career start on Saturday against Ole Miss, Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips announced on Thursday.
Smith was expected to compete for the job this week with junior quarterback Morgan Newton, who left Kentucky's 28-16 loss to Mississippi State in the first half with a high ankle sprain. But Newton never fully recovered from the injury and was limited in practice all week while Smith took snaps with the first team.
Newton's status for Saturday is still uncertain.
Smith struggled in earlier appearances this season before relieving the injured Newton last week. He completed 26-33 passes for 174 yards, leading the Wildcats on a long scoring drive. He marched them down the field again late in the fourth quarter, but that drive stalled eight yards away from the end zone.
"He's not a guy who gets up-tight about much," Phillips said. "Which is how you want your quarterback to be He doesn't have panic in his eyes."
If Newton is available, he'll serve as Smith's backup on Saturday. If he's not, freshman quarterback Bookie Cobbins, who is currently redshirting, would be the backup.
Phillips said Newton would likely play if Smith suffered a minor injury and only needed to miss a few plays, but Cobbins would be forced to play in the case of an emergency.
Newton suffered a shoulder injury in addition to his high ankle sprain on Saturday, though the ankle is what has limited him in practice.
"There's no swelling, there's not usually swelling with a high ankle sprain," Phillips said. "He just can't get up on his toe. Little better today, but still not well enough to protect himself."
Despite being a true freshman, Phillips has praised Smith for how well he has picked up the playbook this week. The offense will likely still be limited, but coaches like Smith's potential.
"(Smith) can throw it," passing game coordinator Tee Martin said on Tuesday. "He's very accurate with the ball and he doesn't need a lot of space to get the ball out. He has a very quick and compact release. If he sees something open, he can get the ball there quick. He's one of the better ones I've been around at doing that."
Smith and Newton have been off limits to the media this week. But Smith's teammates and coaches have expressed confidence in his abilities.
"I like the progress he's making," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said on Tuesday. "There's still a lot of progress to make. It was nice to see him go out and compete like he did, make some plays like he did. Now he's just got to take the next step. Because there's still some things Saturday that we can do much better."