LEXINGTON — Morgan¿Newton will take the first snaps with Kentucky’s first-team offense when the Wildcats resume practice Tuesday, but coach Joker Phillips stopped short Sunday of declaring him as UK’s No. 1 quarterback.
Newton was replaced to start the second half of last Saturday’s 35-7 loss at LSU by freshman Maxwell Smith, who was only 1-for-5 passing for 9 yards and had a fumble returned for a touchdown. Newton came back into the game and threw a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Matt Roark. Newton finished the game 6-for-20 passing for 57 yards with one interception and was sacked three times.
“Somebody has to get the first reps in practice. Morgan will get them,” Phillips said Sunday. “If we feel Max, who got a couple of reps (at LSU), gives us the best chance (to win this week at South Carolina), we will go with him. But Tuesday Morgan will be the guy who goes in first.”
Kentucky’s offense needs a lift. The Wildcats rank last in the Southeastern Conference — and 118th out of 120 teams nationally — with only 255.6 yards per game. Against LSU, Newton opened the game 0-for-8 passing, the Cats had just 59 yards in the first three quarters, averaged only 2.3 yards per run, had eight possessions where they went three-and-out, and never threatened to score until late in the fourth quarter.
“We have to score points,” Phillips said. “It’s hard to win when you don’t score points. Offensively, we have to put together some drives. We had to go a long way to score points, which is hard for a good offense. Twelve of our drives (at LSU), we had to go at least 65 yards. Five were 80 or more. That’s really tough for an offense that is struggling the way we are. We’ve got to get field position.
“A lot of that has to do with our offense getting first downs here and there. Our defense threw five three-and-outs. That gives you a chance (to get field position) if you make any first downs and not have to drive the ball that far. We have to step up and make plays. We have not made any plays the last two or three weeks down the field.”
Phillips says Newton must be more decisive with his decision-making than he has been during UK’s three-game losing streak to Louisville, Florida and LSU.
“Just getting the ball out of his hands or if not getting the ball out of his hands, make the decision (to run),” the Kentucky coach said. “Is he open? No. Is this guy open? No. Then get the ball out of your hands or pull it down and run. Some of his biggest runs have been in the passing game. He has to make quicker decisions to get the ball out of his hands. Our line has done a decent job of blocking and holding up in protection. Sometimes the sacks are not on the line. Sometimes they are on the receivers. Sometimes on the quarterback. Right now our quarterback is taking too many sacks.”
Phillips also was non-committal on any chance that true freshman quarterback Bookie Cobbins might play instead of being redshirted. Cobbins has not played in UK’s first five games.
“You never plan to redshirt a guy. It’s still way to early to say you are definitely going to redshirt him,” Phillips said. “We still have a lot of games to play. Definitely it would warrant taking the guy and playing him with seven games left. That is fair to a player to play seven games as long as you are going to play him.”
Phillips compared it to 2009 when Mike Hartline was hurt and Kentucky turned to Newton, then a true freshman, and played him for the first time in game six but then started him the rest of the season.
“If we did that with anybody on the team, we would play them,” Phillips said.
Phillips continued to insist Sunday that the offense was “fixable” despite the problems UK¿has had all season. He said after reducing missed assignments against Florida, Kentucky had more against LSU.
“We have to throw and catch. Those things are repairable,” Phillips said. “We have thrown the ball at times and looked like a good football team. We have caught at times and looked good. We just have not done it consistently.”
Phillips seemed to rule out making any major changes in UK’s system or philosophy after tinkering with some things at LSU¿that did not work.
“Sometimes you have to pull out things we have done in the past. We have done that and not been consistent with those,” Phillips said. “But we have to work and find ways to give our offense a chance to score.”