LEXINGTONÃ?Â¿— Kentucky football coach Joker Phillips is willing to try anything to get his team back on track.
It’s obvious the Wildcats miss Randall Cobb, but Morgan Newton figured to pick up where Mike Hartline left off last season, leaving Phillips and his staff looking for the next big playmaker to fill the void vacated by Cobb. Five games deep into the post-Cobb era, Phillips is finding out that Hartline was a bigger part of the team’s success and just as much of a valuable contributor as Cobb.
“He made a great difference in getting the protection set, getting the ball out of his hands, getting the ball to those guys who made plays for us,” Phillips said during his weekly press conference Monday at Wildcat Den. “Hartline is a huge, huge loss. Mike Hartline was the guy I think was probably the biggest loss that we (had from last season).”
A year ago, many in Big Blue Nation would have begged to differ with Phillips on Hartline’s influence in the pocket. Newton was the popular back-up signal caller. However, since taking over for Hartline, Newton’s approval rating is lower than Hartline’s was at this time last year. Indeed, filling Hartline’s shoes has proven to be a difficult task for Newton.
Obviously dropped passes have slowed Newton’s progress, but Phillips emphasized that when receivers and others aren’t making plays, it “hurts the whole offense.” He added that Newton “isn’t getting rid of the ball” at crucial times.
“We’ve given up 21 sacks,” he said. “A lot of those sacks have been his holding the ball too long. A lot of it gets put on the offensive line. It’s not always the line. Sometimes it’s the back, sometimes it’s just the line, sometimes it’s just the wide receivers. Sometimes it’s the quarterback.”
Despite Newton’s struggles, Phillips is sticking with Newton, simply because the junior signal caller gives the Cats “our best chance to win.”
Phillips’ next task, which has been the case all season, is to find a playmaker on offense to help take the pressure off Newton.
The Kentucky coach didn’t rule out using freshman quarterback and multi-purpose threat Bookie Cobbins at No. 18 South Carolina this week in an effort to get his offense surging forward instead of lagging behind.
“We have to find out if we can find another playmaker (like Cobb),” he said.
Phillips doesn’t plan on using Cobbins at quarterback on a full-time basis, but will give the freshman a chance to “practice at other positions, just to try and see if he can provide some playmaking abilities.” Also at stake is Cobbins’ future.
“If you’re going to play a guy after going into your sixth game of the season, he’s got to play enough to warrant taking the redshirt off him. We’ve got to figure that out also.”
Phillips signed Cobbins as a quarterback, but added that his athletic skills may be needed at another position in the here and now.
“He’s definitely an athlete, no question about that,” the Kentucky coach said. “We’ve got to figure out if he’s good enough to help us, and help us out this year. We’ll try him out at receiver (and) some at the quarterback position, also.”
Phillips figures anything is worth a try in an effort to end his team’s woes on offense.