Next up: Kentucky

Joker Phillips met with the media for his weekly press conference to discuss Saturday's contest with South Carolina. The hot topic was the health of quarterback Maxwell Smith, who injured his shoulder two weeks ago against Western Kentucky. Phillips also gives an interesting take on the defensive success South Carolina has had.

If you're a quarterback in the Eastern division of the Southeastern Conference, you better protect your shoulder. South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw suffered a shoulder injury in the season opener against Vanderbilt, Missouri quarterback James Franklin suffered a shoulder injury in the second game of the season against Georgia, and Kentucky quarterback Maxwell Smith was injured in the overtime loss to Western Kentucky. All three missed a game and Shaw and Franklin returned two weeks later. Smith will try to do the same this week when Kentucky takes on sixth-ranked South Carolina in Lexington. Kentucky coach Joker Phillips listed Smith as questionable.

"He's a lot further along on Sunday than he was last Sunday, obviously," Phillips said Monday. "A lot of it had to do with us not playing him this week. We would have had some risks in playing him, so we decided not to (play him) to give us a chance to make a decision for this week."

Smith is one of the top quarterbacks in the country statistically, completing 102-of-149 passes for 966 yards and eight touchdowns with four interceptions, very solid numbers for a player that has only played three games. He sprained his shoulder last season and aggravated the injury in that loss to Western Kentucky.

"He just reaggravated an old injury from last year," Phillips said. "So it was a deal where if he'd gotten hurt, they think he could have been out for a significant time, and it wasn't worth risking. It wasn't worth risking."

In last week's game against Florida, Kentucky chose to go with Morgan Newton over freshman Jalen Whitlow, who won the number two job over Newton. Phillips just did not feel comfortable putting Whitlow in against the Gators in Gainesville.

"We've been prepping Jalen to be our Number 2 since the Louisville game. We worked Morgan to be the Number 2 going up to the Louisville game, but after the Louisville game we started prepping Jalen to be our Number 2. When Max went down, we just felt like he (Jalen) wasn't ready, wasn't quite ready to go in in that type of environment. I've been down there when we put a freshman quarterback in there, and it's pretty tough."

For Phillips, bringing back Smith this week may not be such a good idea. They are going against a South Carolina defense that is tied for fifth in the nation and second in the conference with 15 sacks and are in the top four in the conference in every statistical category except pass defense, most of which the yardage against have come late in the game with the starters on the sidelines.

"It's speed, power, length," Phillips said about the defensive front. "I mean they got guys inside that do a really good job of pushing the pocket. They got two 6' 6 guys on the edges that are really good speed rushers, and they do a really good job in coverage also. So just overall, giving up 67 yards rushing in four games, pretty dang good. And you know, they've given up a little over 200 yards in the passing game, but a lot of that's near the end of the game."

The success of the defensive line begins with Jadeveon Clowney, who is just two sacks off the national lead with 4.5 and third in the conference. Last season Phillips said that if he were a GM in the NFL he would take Clowney as the number one draft pick. Monday, Phillips joked that every team should be awarded two players like Clowney just to make things fair. Unfortunately the NCAA does not do that, and Phillips will be looking across the field at the only Clowney in the nation.

"Again, they should issue everybody one of those. I'm just telling you," Phillips said. "He's even better this year. He's a lot faster, a lot quicker off the ball, uses his hands better. Again, he would be the number one pick this year if I was a GM, if he was coming out. They should let him come out, I think (laugh). We could pick him up in the supplemental draft or something and that's one of the guys I was telling you we have to manage the ‘oh, shoots.' When he's coming at you with a screwed-up protection, what do I do with the ball? ‘Oh, shoot. Here he comes.'"

If you pay too much attention on Clowney or keep a back in the backfield to help out with Clowney, you have Devin Taylor coming at you from the other side of the field.

"If we were 100 percent about Clowney, there's a guy over here on the other side, Devin Taylor who's 6' 8, and he's kind of getting lost in all the excitement of Clowney, and they have a couple of other guys inside," Phillips said. "Last year Taylor kind of got lost in (Melvin) Ingram and Clowney. And Taylor's made a lot of plays at South Carolina since he's been there. So we have to make sure we're aware of where he's at but also make sure we're aware of where Devin Taylor is at also."

Not only is Carolina dangerous on the defensive side of the ball, they have become a threat on the offensive side of the ball as well. Last week Carolina nearly reached the 400-yard mark in total offense against Missouri, and exceeded the 500-yard mark the previous two weeks. They are averaging 475 yards of offense the previous three games and nearly 43 points.

"Offensively, passing, they're fourth in the league at 259 yards," Phillips said. "Lattimore is averaging 4.6, one of the best running backs in the country. And Shaw has completed 76 percent of his passes, including 20 of those (in a row) last week. So have to get pressure on him and have to make sure we challenge the receiver."

Shaw, who will be looking to break the NCAA record for most consecutive passes completed if he can connect on his first five passes against the Wildcats, has overcome the shoulder injury and the pressure of having his back-up, Dylan Thompson, perform well in his absence. Shaw proved last week why Steve Spurrier decided to stick with him and name him the starter for the Missorui game.

"He's a tough guy," Phillips said. "I think last year may have been his really first true start against us last year. The guy is really accurate. He actually ran – you guys may not get the highlights of it because he was called back – an 80-yard touchdown run last week against Missouri. An SEC opponent that the quarterback outran for 80 yards. So he's a guy that can run the football. He's really accurate. He's a coach's son, so he's like a coach on the field. He creates a huge challenge for us."

The Wildcats also have to watch out for running back Marcus Lattimore, who is the school record holder in career touchdowns and rushing touchdowns. Lattimore had a field day against Kentucky two years ago before injuring his ankle during the first drive of the second half.

"Big physical back that always falling forward," Phillips said. "He protects the football. He's done a really good job of protecting the football, and he catches the ball well out of the backfield."

South Carolina has traditionally had one of the best defenses in the country, but struggled offensively. That seems to contradict the Spurrier style of football. Phillips has a unique take on why that has been the case as a former wide receivers coach at Carolina.

"It's the state," Phillips said. "I got a chance to coach in that state, and that's one of the reasons we started recruiting that state because there's so many defensive players. The year I was at South Carolina the Super Bowl might have been … there was New England and someone and there were seven kids from the state of South Carolina and none had played at South Carolina or Clemson. And that's one of the reasons why I said, wherever I go, we need to recruit this state every year because there's so many players and not all of them are going to Clemson or South Carolina."

Kentucky has seven players from the state of South Carolina, five of which play on the defensive side of the ball.

"There's a lot of numbers and defensive players, especially defensive linemen, they have ten defensive linemen on their two deep," Phillips continued. "Eight of them are from the state of South Carolina. And then you look up the road at Clemson, there's probably eight more. We talked a lot to some of the guys on the staff and they said we have to find some offensive linemen. We have too many defensive linemen in this state. Do you ever remember that problem occurring here?"

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