“We feel comfortable with all three of them, and that's a good problem to have. “But right now we feel like Mike Hartline gives us the best chance to win. He's been more efficient; he's playing faster than the other two,” Phillips said.
Actually, the announcement was no big surprise. Those who have seen practice — practices are closed to the media — have noted for a week that Hartline was the sharpest of the three and made the fewest mistakes. Phillips often praised Newton’s running and playmaking ability, but never mentioned his passing. He also talked about Mossakowski’s improvement and command in the huddle, but often cited his lack of inexperience.
Phillips has stressed the need all preseason for UK’s passing game to be more “efficient” this season and he feels Hartline was “slightly ahead” of the other two .
Hartline has completed 56 percent of his passes for 2,502 yards and 15 touchdowns with 16 interceptions in 21 games.
Hartline started nine games in 2008, throwing for 1,666 yards and nine touchdowns. He threw for 802 yards and six scores a year ago.
He’s never been great at throwing deep balls, especially over the middle, but he’s also been handicapped with a lack of proven playmakers around him. This year he should have a more capable supporting cast and his experience then could be vital for keeping UK in the right sets and making the right reads.
“Ryan and Morgan, they have great talent, they have great potential — the most I've ever had to compete with,” Hartline said. “There was some worry in the back of (my) mind, but I knew if I just kept to my senses, did what I knew how to do every day and just keep getting better, hopefully it would come in my favor.”
Phillips said Hartline’s consistency “won” the job for him as the two younger quarterbacks could never overcome the slight lead Hartline had coming out of spring practice.
He also said he relied on offensive coordinator Randy Sanders for input on the decision.
“If we would have made this (decision) in the spring or when we first started fall camp, I don’t think that it would have been fair to those guys that are a little bit younger,” Phillips said. “We had to give those guys a chance to compete. At this point in time we just feel that Mike gives us the best chance to win. He (Hartline) is our guy.”
Newton obviously was bitterly disappointed — and should have been. He came to UK from Indianapolis as a highly-touted quarterback and proved last year he could win. He felt he had done enough to win the job and any competitor should be disappointed when he finds out he won’t start — especially at quarterback where the backup plays only if the starter is injured or the game is out of hand in most cases.
“You come out here and you try to compete and put yourself in a position to play. That’s what I thought I had done,” Newton, who was 5-3 as a starter last year.
Mossakowski, a Texas native, was more upbeat, perhaps because he was such a longshot going into the competition considering he had shoulder surgery late in his high school senior season and had not started games like the other two had.
“None of them tore up my office or anything, but I am sure that it hurt the other two (Mossakowski and Newton) also a little bit,” Phillips said. “If it didn’t, then we got the wrong two.
“I think that it did hurt them a little bit, but I think those two are smart enough and understand this game enough that they are going to roll their sleeves up and know that they are a snap (away from playing). It could be before the game on Sept. 4. Anything can happen.”
Just ask Hartline, who also had to win the job last August only to have his season ended at South Carolina midway of the season.However, Hartline came into the preseason battle determined to show he was still No. 1 and his tenacity, confidence and experience got him the job he wanted.