Make that, would have played. But Mississippi State's staff, coaching and training alike, wanted to give the third-fall sophomore a non-conference evening off to have Smith ready for return to conference competition this week. The same tack was taken with still-recovering center J.C. Brignone, at least for one half. At intermission the senior center asked to be reactivated and the coaches agreed; resulting in a much more cohesive offensive line in the decisive second half.
Smith says now that he too was thinking about getting back on the field. "I wanted to play! I was just ready at any time, if he had called my number I would have gone right in." In fact, Smith relates that there never was any time in game week or even game day he was told he would not play.
"Nah, I was just ready. I figured I wouldn't play at the beginning of the second half."
Fortunately the Bulldogs won, albeit with more muss and fuss than expected against Alabama-Birmingham. Brignone reports no harm done to the knee that had kept him out of the Florida game, and Coach Dan Mullen is counting on his veteran center going back over the ball for first-snap this weekend against Kentucky.
And Smith? "Yeah, I'm ready to play, because with the rest and everything I feel pretty good out there."
Smith certainly felt pretty good about how he played at Gainesville the week before. Brignone's injury at Houston, and moving OG Quentin Saulsberry to center, opened the door for Smith to get his first college start. Not only that but the usual third guard in the MSU rotation was able to play the entire evening at Florida. Of course it helped that State needed just 58 offensive snaps to defeat the Gators 10-7, so Smith and his notoriously iffy ankles were able to go the Dog-distance.
Not that Smith surprised himself. "Nah, because I trained and this is what I came to school for. I didn't come to just play here and play there, I wanted to play." Line coach John Hevesy also wanted the young guard to go the whole game, too, and was not going to give Smith any slack under the line-limited circumstances.
Fine by Smith; "I don't cut myself any slack!" And for the record, he was held out of the UAB game with a sore right shoulder. But a weekend off, and the upcoming open date, can only ease the strain on those ankles going into November's crunch time.
Having Smith and Brignone back to speed this week does give Hevesy another sort of State slack, though. The offensive line can get back to the three guard rotation that worked so well against Georgia and, for a half before the center went down, Houston. Smith is not concerned who will get the starting jobs this week, either, and up to last week it was Saulsberry at right guard and Gabe Jackson at left. Smith is Jackson's alternate, typically.
"You know, we've got a good rotation going with three good guards and we all play our part," Smith said after Wednesday's practice. Where, he said, he was able to go full-speed on the ankles and shoulder alike without problems. The only problems Smith & Company are focused on now are the boys in blue coming to Scott Field this weekend. This will be his first matchup with Kentucky, as Smith missed the 2008 game with one ankle injury and was limited to three games last fall after an operation on the other.
But scouting tape tells the big young Dog all he needs to know about the job in store Saturday. "They're pretty big, they look pretty strong on film. So we have to bring our lunch pail." Or would that be dinner box for the evening kickoff?