LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- Kentucky coaches say they have seen a different Maxwell Smith in practice since naming him as the starting quarterback for Saturday's home opener against Miami (Ohio).
The sophomore has taken control, composure that led coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown to make the switch from Jalen Whitlow to try and build momentum before the toughest stretch of the Wildcats' schedule.
After facing the RedHawks (0-1), Kentucky's next four opponents are No. 8 Louisville, No. 12 Florida, No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 South Carolina.
Smith performed well after entering in the third quarter of Saturday's 35-26 loss to Western Kentucky, leading the Wildcats (0-1) on two scoring drives. Brown said he wanted to make it easier on his offense to feel that comfort from the opening kickoff.
"I think that comfort is a good word for that. It's hard to be a leader as a backup," Brown said. "I think you can, but it's hard. I thought he (Smith) did a good job during the game until he went in, giving energy and supporting his teammates on the sidelines."
Smith completed 8 of 13 passes for 125 yards against WKU. He will be making his first start since sustaining a season-ending ankle injury against South Carolina nearly a year ago.
One factor in Smith getting the start over Whitlow, who is less of a pocket passer, was how the RedHawks' pass defense performed last week. Miami (Ohio) allowed five passing touchdowns in a 52-14 loss to Marshall.
Mindful that the Thundering Herd was the nation's No. 1 passing team last season, Smith said he was putting the RedHawks' opening week in perspective.
"Following up that performance might be a little hard," he said of Marshall. "Obviously, Miami of Ohio's got a chip on their shoulders just like we have a chip on ours, so we're just going to go out there and. ... like Coach Brown has been talking about, I think it's all about us getting better. Not really about what they're doing, but what we've got to do."
Here are five things to watch Saturday between Miami (Ohio) and Kentucky:
GROWING PAINS: Kentucky freshman wide receiver Ryan Timmons was one of the school's highest-profile recruits in Stoops' first class, and it was made clear throughout training camp that he would play from the get-go. He had one reception for six yards and one rush for 33 yards, but the long carry ended with a fumble in WKU territory that the Hilltoppers recovered. Brown said Timmons will be a bigger part of the game plan against Miami (Ohio), and that the freshman has practiced well this week.
GLASS HALF FULL: Despite losing in lopsided fashion in its opener, Miami (Ohio) was tied with Marshall 14-14 at halftime and outgained the Herd 217-184 in the first 30 minutes. The RedHawks were shut out after that and only just 55 yards. Senior quarterback Austin Boucher only completed one pass after halftime.
THE WILDCATS' MIDDLE MAN: Kentucky middle linebacker Avery Williamson is the Southeastern Conference's leading tackler after making 14 against WKU, but he's familiar with the territory. He spent much of last season near the top of the league's leaderboard and finished second with 135 tackles. He has had double-digit tackles in five of his last six games dating back to last season.
KICKING GAME: The RedHawks didn't attempt any field goals last week, but sophomore kicker Kaleb Patterson is one of the team's most valuable assets. He was 15 of 18 last season including 5 of 6 from 40-49 yards. Patterson is one of 30 named to the preseason watch list for the Lou Groza Award, given to the nation's best kicker.
WELCOME HOME: The Wildcats have won seven straight home openers. Kentucky's last home-opening loss was 31-24 to rival Louisville in 2005. Kentucky opened its home schedule last season against another Mid-American Conference team, beating Kent State 47-14.