The old saying goes “The backup quarterback is alway..."/>

The old saying goes “The backup quarterback is alway..."/>

Kentucky Wildcats Football: It's time to lay off of Morgan Newton


The old saying goes “The backup quarterback is always the most popular player on the team” or something to that effect, and Kentucky has never been any different. Fans wanted to see Shane Boyd when Jared Lorenzen struggled, Curtis Pulley was the program’s savior when Andre Woodson had a bad game, and Morgan Newton should have been starting when Mike Hartline had his down days. With the current backup Max Smith being a freshman and having come in and performing well in mop up duty against Florida, it’s inevitable that some fans will start calling for him to get more time. But today’s post isn’t about Smith, it’s about Newton.

Newton came to Kentucky as a parade All-American and four-star player per and ESPN, and fans had high expectations for him from the get-go. An injury to Hartline during Newton’s freshman season served to thrust him into the starting role and while he didn’t necessarily will the Cats to any wins, he did lead the team to upset victories over Auburn and Georgia. And so the legend of Morgan Newton was born.

In the midst of a lackluster performance against Pitt in the BBVA Bowl this past January, a lot of fans thought Ryan Mossakowski should have gotten a shot to play some. He didn’t, and subsequently transferred to junior college, where he has put up some gaudy numbers. That, added to the offense’s struggles over the first four games of 2011, has built some angst over having Newton as the starting quarterback at Kentucky. But let’s look a little closer over the past five games.

Against Pitt, Newton’s touch and accuracy were both widely criticized. Re-watching the game though and looking at the stat sheet tells a different story. Newton went 21-36 for a 58% completion percentage and amassed 211 yards for the game. He threw no interceptions or touchdowns. In itself, not an impressive performance, but re-watching the game tells another story. Newton was under duress frequently and was sacked three times for -19 yards in addition to running for his life on multiple occasions. He was able to add 37 yards on the ground as well to finally account for 229 of Kentucky’s 315 total offensive yards. While not otherworldly, he really did not have a bad performance for a true sophomore that was thrust into the starting role after having only played sparingly over the course of the season.

Fast forward to 2011. Newton has drawn some ire from an anxious fanbase that has seen the offense struggle to put up points against two subpar teams in Western Kentucky and Central Michigan, only to lose to a bad Louisville team in Commonwealth and follow that up with a waxing by Florida in Lexington again. The offense has sputtered at times and has fallen flat frequently, and putting the blame on Newton has become a common scapegoat. Newton’s stat line for this year is less than impressive. He’s completed only 59 of 110 attempts or 58% (not good). He’s thrown six interceptions (Hartline only had 9 all season last year) and has only thrown 5 touchdown passes. By itself, the stat sheet that Newton has assembled through four games is more than enough to bench most quarterbacks playing at a BCS school. But those passing stats alone do not tell the whole story. Newton has been running for his life for about 15 of the 16 quarters of football he’s played so far. He’s been hit relentlessly and has been pummeled to 15 sacks for a loss of 94 yards. When he’s had enough time to get the ball off, he’s been able to hit his receivers between the numbers or right in the hands multiple times, only to see them drop the ball and any shot at a first down. Veterans like La’Rod King, Matt Roark, and CoShik Williams have dropped the rock. Exciting youngsters like Jordan Aumiller, E.J. Fields, and Demarco Robinson have watched the ball graze off of their fingertips. It has got to be frustrating.

Now I know that this is probably going to come across as a sort of long list of excuses for Newton, and while I’m positive he doesn’t want any excuses made on his behalf, that’s exactly what it is. Some of the biggest mistakes he has made this season came when he was trying to make something happen for the offense because no one else was able or willing to do so. He’s picking up yards on the ground when he can, and dragging defenders to first downs. He’s hitting open receivers in stride and they’re not catching it. He’s getting hit in the backfield on almost every offensive play, and he’s still doing everything he can to try to win the game. At some point, we have to look at the offensive line, which is not blocking. Or at the running backs, who aren’t keeping defenses honest or making plays. Or at the receivers, who aren’t catching the ball. Or even the offensive coordinator, who’s play calling is mundane and unimaginative. The quarterback always gets more praise than he deserves when things are going well and he always gets more flak than he deserves when things aren’t going well. When Kentucky has been in the no-huddle offense and Newton has been able to get the ball off before being hit, he has been very good. For every overthrow, there have been two or three drops. It’s important that we, as fans, keep things in perspective when being critical of Morgan Newton. True, I was one of those guys that thought that Mossakowski was the future of the program, but I can also admit that Morgan has done as much as he possibly could over the past four games to get this offense on track. I have got to throw him a bone here today, because he has probably been the best and most consistent offensive player thus far in the 2011 season.

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