Smith shining as WKU’s pass rush ace

WKU defensive lineman Quanterus Smith sacks Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, forcing a fumble in the process, at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Saturday, Sept. 8. The Hilltoppers lost 35-0 to the defending BCS National Champions.

Lucas Aulbach

Senior defensive end Quanterus Smith snuck up on Alabama, but he won’t have that chance against Kentucky on Saturday.

Instead, the man known as “Q” has likely earned high priority on the Wildcats’ scouting report.

After missing the first game of the 2012 season due to a violation of team rules, Smith returned in a big way against the Crimson Tide last weekend.

He had three sacks while anchoring a defensive unit that recorded a total of six sacks.

That kind of breakout performance against one of the most respected offensive lines in the nation will change the way teams prepare for Smith, but he said he thinks he’s got a chance to do the same thing against Kentucky on Saturday.

“If I do the same things I did as far as preparing like I did for Alabama, I’ll do the same thing for UK,” Smith said.

He has his team behind him. Smith is respected by the rest of the linemen he lines up next to, including fellow senior Jamarcus Allen, who said he thinks Smith has the potential to be playing on Sundays next year.

Detroit Lions, St. Louis Rams and Houston Texans scouts have been at practice this week watching Smith.

“He’s always been a great football player but even better, he’s become more of a student of the game, which also helps us on the defensive line,” Allen said.

The person most impressed with Smith’s performance, though, might be defensive line coach Eric Mathies. He’s coached Smith throughout his WKU career.

Smith is a rare combination of mental persistence and athletic talent, Mathies said.

“He’s motivated, and he’s extremely athletic, and any time you’re athletic and you’re motivated and you’re a pass-rusher, you’re going to have success,” he said.

Mathies said Smith’s greatest improvement came after he became a “student of the game.”

“Last weekend at Alabama was a great illustration,” he said. “He knew what he could do to beat those guys.

“It was awesome to see because he beat both of the tackles, and he knew he could do it based on the moves he was working on all last week in practice.”

Mathies also doubles as WKU’s recruiting coordinator. The coach said Smith had strong attributes and potential in high school, but some of the larger schools in the country didn’t recruit him.

“He was undersized, so that kind of took away from some of his recruiting,” Mathies said. “He was 200 pounds coming out of high school and now and now he’s 252, 253. He looks great.”

Smith will be an important part of the defensive effort against Kentucky this weekend.

The Wildcat offense, led by sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith, has relied on short passes and a no-huddle offense in their first two games of the season.

Quanterus Smith said the WKU pass defense will have to step up to shut down the Kentucky quarterback.

“He gets the ball out of his hands quick, but our DBs are going to do their thing,” Smith said. “They’re going to make him hold it a little longer so we’ll have time to get back there.”

Smith is slated to start at defensive end for the Toppers this Saturday in Lexington.  

WKU will be in good shape if Smith brings the same intensity he brought against Alabama, Mathies said.

“He had a look in his eye last week that was almost like a prizefighter,” Mathies said. “It was great because Evander Holyfield came to talk to the team and it was like he was stepping in the ring with Mike Tyson and he knew he could knock him out, and that’s how he played.”