LEXINGTON — Kentucky senior center Matt Smith knows the Wildcats are a two-touchdown underdog in Sunday’s season-opening game at Louisville, but he’s not let that change his approach to the season.
“We have a lot of to prove and a whole new senior class ready to get us to a bowl game. We are ready. We want to go show fans that we have a lot of confidence after what we have done all summer. We just have to go out and prove it now,” said Smith Monday.
Question: How do you cope with the talk about Louisville being a two-touchdown favorite and Big East favorite and very little talk about Kentucky?
Smith: “They are a good team and obviously get a preseason ranking of 25, they are well respected. But we want to win every game that we can. It’s one of those things that we don’t listen to a whole lot of the talk that goes on outside our locker room. We just focus on ourselves and we have to prepare for what we can do in order to win. We hear a lot of the talk, but we try to stay out of it and keep it out of the locker room and just focus on us.”
Question: Did you hear the talk that most people are not giving UK¿a chance to win?
Smith: “You hear the talk, but at the same time I¿love being the underdog. The pressure is off of us. We have nothing to lose. We can just go out and play the game we know how to play and we are hoping to shock a lot of people this year.”
Question: Why are you convinced the offense will be better?
Smith: “Last year we were plagued with a lot of injuries during (preseason) camp, especially the offensive line. Four of our starting five didn’t even go through camp. Just the fact that we have been together all summer and in camp we have been able to build team chemistry stronger and work on our offense as a whole. We have changed up a few things and I¿think we are ready to hit the ground running.”
Question: What does the Louisville game mean for momentum for the season?
Smith: “It is huge for momentum. Obviously you want to start your season with a win and be 1-0. The fact that it is against our in-state rival, it is always a huge game for us, too. Being on the road is a huge game. You always have that extra pressure to win on the road, but at the same time it’s just a huge game in general. You want to start on the right note. It is up to us to make sure we have the good feelings around us. Last year we just did not perform the way we wanted to. We know that is huge and is on our minds, especially Larry (Warford) and myself. We thought going into the game last year that we had experience and were going to be fine, but as everybody saw, we weren’t.”
Question: What do you have to do well to win?
Smith: “We just have to play as a team. Last year when we played against Louisville (and lost) we did a lot of things. We messed up missing blocks, missing passes, just letting guys go through. Things we could have prevented ourselves that came around to bite us. We are just focused on doing what we know how to do and taking care of our responsibilities first before we worry about them.”
Question: What does sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith do best that gives you a chance to win Sunday?
Smith: “His confidence has grown so much since last year. Just taking control of the huddle as a quarterback is huge. He has us up front to lean back on. We help him with a lot of things and he helps us a lot. Just the communication and being able to communicate with his receivers and offensive line and being able to take control of everything is huge. He has improved that a lot since last year.”
Question: What changes has the offense made that you like?
Smith: “It is just small things here and there but the biggest thing is that last year it seemed like the team was in cliques based on positions. This year we have come together as a whole offense, not just by position. We have cookouts and are hanging out with running backs, quarterbacks, receivers instead of just going out with O-linemen. The whole team bonding experience has got a lot better.”
Question: How do you feel about first-time offensive line starters Zach West and Kevin Mitchell?
Smith: “There was some question about how well they would respond in the spring and coming into fall camp, but we were able to pick up this fall right where we left off in the spring, which was huge. When you have to tak steps back it causes you to start over and you don’t want to do that. We have been able to build and go past the basics of what they need to know and start hitting things in more depth to get them on the next level that we need them to be on.”
Question: Since Louisville has 10 defensive starters back, what impresses you about that defense?
Smith: “They are fast. They throw a lot of things at us. They are never going to be staying in the same spot where they line up. We have to be ready for a lot of movement. A lot of showing things and then backing out of things. Just be ready for anything. Got to be on your toes and your head on a swivel just to pick up things they throw at you.”
Question: What does your final game in this rivalry mean to you?
Smith: “It is huge for me. Being able to go home in Louisville and play where I¿am from, there are a lot of people that will be there watching and it’s been a rivalry I¿have followed since I¿was a little kid. I have been a Kentucky fan all my life. It is something that means a whole lot to me, especially my senior year, to go back home and play this game and hopefully win.”
Question: How painful was last year’s upset loss to Louisville?
Smith: “It was very painful. Not only losing to Louisville like that, but just the fact we know that we could have won. If we had done things the way we know how to do them, we could have won. Going back and watching that film this year, it hurts to watch how much you messed up and how things could have turned if we had done things right.”
Question: How often have you heard about last year’s loss compared to game you beat Louisville?
Smith: “Really when I¿go back home, I am not surrounded with a lot of that because I¿will just be there a day or two. We hear all the stuff from the media and out in the blogs that is circulating around here and what they are saying on Twitter. We just focus on ourselves and work on what we have to work on. Over the whole summer we were focused on things within the program and not trying to worry about outside influences.”