John Clay: Why Newton should or shouldn't start

Can QB handle test at Auburn?

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistOctober 15, 2009 

Talk is the decision has been made. That's not Rich Brooks talking, mind you. He prefers the sticking of the needle, the playful jabbing of the media with "Maybe it has. Maybe the scuttlebutt is right. Maybe it's wrong."

Scuttlebutt insists Morgan Newton will get the start when Kentucky travels to Auburn Saturday night.

But let's just operate under the parameters that, at the very least, the UK coaching staff is strongly considering giving the true freshman the first snap on Saturday.

All those life coaches advise that whenever faced with a difficult decision, it helps to pull out a sheet of a paper, draw a line down the middle and list the pros and cons.

So let's do it:

Pro: Newton has arguably the steepest upside of any quarterback on the roster. He can run. He can throw. The 6-foot-4, 217-pounder arrived as a heralded four-star recruit whose commitment brought a chorus of hallelujahs from the Kentucky football followers. Now is the perfect opportunity to see what Newton can do.

Con: Through five games, Newton is still oh-so-new. He has yet to take a college snap. In fact, until Mike Hartline's knee was mangled last Saturday in Columbia, Newton was a near certain redshirt candidate.

The explanation was the Indiana native had not exhibited the progress necessary to be ready for action. So now you throw him into the fire on the road at night at a tough SEC venue?

Pro: After Saturday, the Cats welcome a three-game home stand in which the competition is not quite so, well, ranked or formerly ranked.

Louisana-Monroe, Mississippi State and Eastern Kentucky visit Commonwealth next. If you toss Newton into the shark tank at Auburn, he'll be better-equipped to fight the smaller fish the next three weeks.

As Brooks said after Wednesday's practice, "They just have to understand that when the decision is made, we're making it for the correct reason, to try and win this game and the rest of them."

Con: Will Fidler has been on the team four seasons. Aside from being tossed into the fray last Saturday, Fidler has had little opportunity to show what he can do under the bright lights.

What might the team reaction be when/if the designated second-string quarterback is leap-frogged by a third-stringer who hasn't taken a live snap of college football?

Pro: Back on Oct. 23, 2004, Auburn was the site of Andre Woodson's first collegiate start. He was a redshirt freshman subbing for the injured Shane Boyd.

Woodson completed 14 of 26 passes, though for a measly 73 yards, in a 42-10 UK loss. I wrote that, despite the loss, Woodson showed promise, only to hear a radio show host question my sanity when I arrived back in Lexington the next day.

But the experience seemed to help the young quarterback. After all, Woodson finished out his career by leading the Cats to consecutive bowl wins.

Con: On Sept. 28, 1996, at The Swamp in Gainesville, highly regarded true freshman Tim Couch got his first collegiate start. Unfortunately, it was one to forget.

The Leslie County legend completed just six of 18 passes for a grand total of 13 yards and one interception. Florida wiped the field with the Cats that day, 65-0, on the way to a national title.

Saddled with an offense that didn't showcase his talents and a coach headed for unemployment, Couch played sparingly the rest of the year, completing just 16 of 34 passes over a seven-game span.

Pro: Of course, eventually, Couch developed into the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft.

Reach John Clay at 859-231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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