Smith steps in at quarterback for the Trojans

Published 6:45 pm Monday, October 8, 2018

With starting quarterback Kaleb Barker on the shelf for the rest of the season, redshirt sophomore Sawyer Smith will try to lead the Trojans to their second consecutive conference championship.

Head coach Neal Brown announced that Barker will miss the remainder of the season after tearing his ACL during Troy’s 37-20 win over Georgia State on Thursday night.

After finishing the game on Thursday, Smith was told by Barker that it was now his team.

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“He said ‘It’s your team now, go out there and win,’” Smith said. “I said ‘That’s the plan. We’re going to be the same team, and you’re going to be a big part of it, too.’ When he comes around after his surgery, he’s going to be a big part. He’s a really good leader.”

Barker and Smith began competing for the starting job in the spring and during that time, the two grew closer to one another. Despite coming up short in the race, Smith now gets thrust into the starting role.

“That’s not the way you want it to happen, not the way you want it to happen at all,” Smith said. “Me and Kaleb, we grew really close through this whole thing. We’ve been battling each other really since last spring and going into the fall when they named him the starter. That kind of hurt for about a week, honestly, and then I got used to it. I grew into my role. After I got used to it, me and him kind of started bouncing questions off each other and helping each other out. You don’t want this to happen.”

Although Smith has yet to start a game in his career, he has plenty of experience. He has played in all six games this season. He has completed 22 of his 34 passes and has three touchdown passes. Like Barker, Smith can also pull the ball down and run. He has amassed 153 yards on 21 carries. His longest run came on a 63-yard carry on Thursday.

After struggling early on Thursday, Smith finished with 10 completions on 15 passes with one touchdown pass.

“When I got in that first drive, that was the drive I’ve been repping all week, and I looked confident in what I was doing,” Smith said. “Those next two drives, I looked shaky – probably going into that third drive, too. I wasn’t comfortable, I guess. He (Brown) could see I was playing tight. He said, ‘You need to relax. You’ve played a lot of football here.’ I played against Clemson my freshman year. I’ve played a lot of football. I have to relax, go out there, have fun and play loose.”

All season long, the Trojans have been intentional about getting different quarterbacks quality snaps, all to get Smith and newly-named backup quarterback Gunnar Watson quality experience.

“If you look over our four previous years, we have always done that,” Brown said. “Our number two quarterback, we have been intentional about getting in the game, usually in the second quarter at some point and they play a number of snaps. It’s just plug-n-play and we are not changing what we are doing. Our team and our coaching staff have a ton of confidence both in Sawyer and in Gunnar.”

Gunnar, who entered the game against Florida A&M, can still play in three more games and still be eligible to redshirt. With Barker’s injury, coach Brown and the coaching staff will reevaluate their plans with their freshman quarterback.

“We played Gunnar in the FAMU game, just really as a precaution in case something happened. We wanted to get him some game experience. Looking back, that was a good decision. He played a whole quarter. Moving forward, we’re getting him prepared to play this week. He will play in the game this week. Then we’ll make decisions based on that once we get back in conference play.”

Barker and Smith communicate with each other about what they see on the field. With Barker out for the year, that communication, at least for the moment, shifts to Barker and Watson.

“After his surgery, I’m sure Kaleb will come down there on the sideline, too,” Smith said. “That will be big, too. That will get two minds out there, me and Kaleb, plus Coach Reagan and Coach Brown. But for these first two weeks, with his surgery coming up, I’m sure he won’t be out there. Me and Gunnar, Gunnar is going to get an opportunity to play. I think he’s ready. I think he’ll be ready. He’s confident. He can throw the ball. He’ll get out there, and I’ll help him out. He just needs to be confident with what he can do.”