John Clay: Newton proves he can run a little, too

He's not Cam, but UK's Newton can run, too

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistSeptember 11, 2011 

He isn't going to beat you with his arm. Not yet, anyway. Morgan Newton is the proud owner of a cannon, but the Kentucky quarterback is still learning the fine distinction between when to hum it like a howitzer and when to display a feathery touch.

"He's got to make some of the throws he's missing," said UK Coach Joker Phillips.

He isn't going to beat you with his receivers' hands. Not yet, anyway. There was Matt Roark appearing to snatch a perfectly tossed first quarter pass from Newton in the end zone for a touchdown — the band started playing; the team commenced celebrating — until the official on the scene noticed Roark had in fact not caught the ball.

"Again," said Phillips, "drops showed up."

But maybe Morgan Newton can beat you with his legs.

"We have to run Morgan Newton this year to be successful," said Phillips after his team's 27-13 win over Central Michigan on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. "And we'll continue to do that."

That's because if there was a progression, especially an offensive progression, from the first week's 14-3 win over Western Kentucky which made practically no one in the Bluegrass happy and the two-touchdown victory over CMU which kept Big Blue Nation from crawling out on its Big Blue ledge, it was the emergence of Newton as a bona fide rushing threat.

He's Morgan Newton, not Cameron Newton, mind you. But considering the junior from Carmel, Ind., is 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, considering he was known to pick them up and put them down in high school, there were expectations Newton could be a legitimate collegiate dual threat. He just hadn't shown it.

Two years ago, as a true freshman shoved into duty for the injured Mike Hartline, Newton was so shackled he never was able to show what he could do with the ball tucked under his arm.

As the starter in last year's bowl (if you want to call it that) game, Newton carried the football 12 times for 18 yards. Not exactly Mike Vick-like.

But before that smattering of fans in Nashville last week, Newton made the run of the night, bursting into the secondary for a 58-yard rumble that set up the score that put the Wildcats up 14-3.

Saturday, Newton carried nine times for 48 yards in the second half, the half in which the home team won the game.

He gained 17 yards on a second-and-10 in the third quarter. He gained 10 yards on a third-and-10 deep in UK territory in the fourth quarter. Plus, Newton picked up 15 yards on a third-and-6 at the visitors' 47-yard line late in the final period that helped the winners eat the clock.

"We're going to have to do it because you've got to be balanced," Newton said of his carries. "Whatever way it comes, you've got to be balanced, keep the defense off a little bit. Today we gave future teams a little something else to prepare for."

But why did we see it now? Timing, said Tee Martin, UK's receivers coach, who used his arm and his legs as a quarterback to help Tennessee to a national title. Running is no different than throwing. All about rhythm.

"At practice, you know they're not going to hit you (because you're the quarterback)," Martin said. "It takes you a couple of games to say, oh, I can (probably do that). Today, he cut one back. I don't think last week he would have thought of that.

"He's starting to show that the more comfortable he gets, and the more he sees how people are going to defend him, he's going to make more plays like that."

This is an offense that needs more of that. After all, Newton's throws are still searching for consistency.

"He's struggled a little bit to complete passes underneath," said Phillips. "But I think he's throwing the deep ball as good as anybody we've had here throw the deep ball."

But Saturday, Newton also did something of a Derrick Ramsey imitation. He was the strong quarterback who on a well-designed run can gain some well-earned yards.

"We want to expand that package," said Martin, "and see where we can go with it."

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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