LEXINGTON¿— Kentucky quarterback Morgan Newton didn’t notice much of a difference between the season opener and the home opener.
“Last week we played the worse game we could play offensively,” he said. “This week we probably played the second worse game we could have played offensively.”
The difference was Kentucky’s ability to make plays, especially in the second half of a 27-13 triumph over Central Michigan Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.
“We made things happen,” Newton said afterward. “We’re 2-0 (and) I feel better than if we were 1-1 or 0-2, but I know as well as anybody that (the way we played) in our first game and the first half of this game, I don’t know how long we’re going to be unblemished.”
Although Kentucky’s first-half outing against the Chippewas wasn’t much different than last week’s 14-3 victory over Western Kentucky, the offense showed signs of life and displayed flashes of brilliance in the midst of adversity.
Newton completed nine of his 18 passes for 114 yards and one touchdown. He also ran for 43 yards and one score, giving the junior signal caller more confidence going into Saturday’s rivalry game against Louisville. Newton said the victory over Central Michigan was another learning experience.
“We understand how poorly we have played, but we have made some things happen today that we can build on,” he said.
Kentucky offensive coordinator Randy Sanders liked the way Newton played in the second half. Sanders singled out a halftime chat as a big reason behind his outing in the second half.
“We talked to him a little bit at halftime and challenged him a little bit and he responded,” Sanders said. “He’s still a work in progress a little bit and he’s still getting better each time he goes out there.”
Sanders and Kentucky coach Joker Phillips rank Newton one of the best “deep ball” passers on the team and aren’t afraid to turn the junior signal caller loose in the pocket.
“He really throws the deep ball well,” Sanders said. “Obviously having a strong arm helps, but he has excellent touch and he’s able to control not only the distance he throws it, but where the ball comes down.”
Newton misfired on a pair of long throws in the opening half, but got more comfortable in the pocket during the final two quarters.
“We had to make some real, easy simple plays for him.” Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. “We’ve got to create some easy throws for him early. He’s struggled a little bit to complete passes underneath, but I think he’s throwing the deep ball as good as anybody we’ve had here throw the deep ball.”
Sanders added that Newton’s improvement from the opener helped elevate Kentucky’s offense. Newton threw a 34-yard touchdown strike to LaRod King that broke a 13-13 deadlock and pushed the Wildcats over the proverbial hump in the third quarter.
“As an offense we improved (from the win over Western),” Sanders said. “We blocked better up front, we protected better and obviously we ran the ball with some efficiency.”
Newton provided the final margin with a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal with 6:55 remaining that sealed the win for the hosts. In addition to his throwing performance, Newton rushed for 33 yards in the fourth quarter and helped the Wildcats maintain control of the clock after grabbing the lead.
“Morgan’s ability to pull the ball down and run made a big difference,” Sanders said. “Anytime the quarterback can run, it changes the game. The (opposing defense) has to play a little bit.”
Newton isn’t afraid the tuck the ball under his arm and give the team more weapons on offense.
“We’ve got to do it and we’ve got to be balanced,” he said. “You’ve got to keep the defense (off-balance) a little bit.”
Although the second-half effort against the Chippewas was the team’s best offensive output of the season, Newton would prefer less drama when it comes to winning and added that the Cats can’t afford lackluster during the first half.
“We’ve just got to get into a rhythm early and make things happen,” he said. “We’ve got to clean up the things we’ve done (in the first two games) and that’s repetition.”