Kentucky QB Newton tries to stay positive amid negative results

Newton stays positive through bye week

jclay@herald-leader.comOctober 21, 2011 

Last Saturday, an open Saturday, Morgan Newton retreated to his Lexington abode, closed the door, and took in a heaping helping of televised pigskin.

"I watched all the games Saturday," Newton said.

Which games did you watch?

"All of them," he said. "I'm a big fan of everybody that plays. I had a good time doing that."

Noon Saturday, it's back to work. And as a struggling Kentucky returns to the field to face visiting and dangerous Jacksonville State, the UK quarterback will be the one being watched.

Through six games, the junior from Carmel, Ind., is completing just 45.7 percent of his passes. He's thrown six touchdowns and seven interceptions. His 86.5 pass-efficiency rating falls well outside the Southeastern Conference's top 10. His offense ranks 118th out of 120 nationally in average yards per game.

And, oh yeah, last time out, in a 51-point loss at South Carolina, Newton completed just four of 20 passes for 17 yards. His passer rating was 16.7.

"Sunday, when we met," quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said last week, "I just kind of gave him a hug."

Newton needed it, no doubt. He was a four-star recruit coming out of Indiana, a heralded signee who, because of an injury to Mike Hartline, started eight games as a true freshman in 2009, including the Music City Bowl. Kentucky won five of those eight. He was the starting quarterback in UK's loss to Pittsburgh in last year's BBVA Compass Bowl.

This season, his experience and athleticism were to buoy an offense missing play-makers Randall Cobb, Derrick Locke and Chris Matthews. That hasn't happened.

Only twice has Newton's passer rating been above 100. Only against Louisville, in a losing cause, has he completed more than 50 percent of his throws.

In the Cats' last three games — lopsided losses to Florida, Louisiana State and South Carolina — Newton has completed 26 of 73 passes (36 percent) with two touchdowns and three interceptions.

But now, the second half. The schedule is a tad softer, and Newton has had a couple of weeks to fix his confidence.

"There's no question his confidence is shaken," Sanders said. "I think everybody's confidence is a little shaken when you have 96 yards of total offense."

Head coach Joker Phillips agreed: "When you've played as bad as we've played on offense, confidence starts to become a factor."

Newton will be the one under center, however. True freshman Maxwell Smith has proved not quite ready for prime time. At South Carolina, Smith tossed back-to-back interceptions, causing Phillips to joke that he told the backup, "you're not as popular as you were."

The Hail Mary idea of pulling the redshirt off true freshman Bookie Cobbins appears to have been tabled.

So Newton remains the man, something the coaches have stressed, something he knows.

"I'm probably about as hard on myself as anyone," Newton said this week. "I just want to get better all the time. But you've also got to keep it in perspective and keep a positive attitude."

What has he been working on during the last two weeks?

"Just working on my continuity with the guys," the quarterback said. "Trying to make it easier for our guys."

Phillips mentioned Newton's talent throwing the deep ball.

"We need to try and take some shots with him," he said. "And then somebody's got to make some plays to give him some confidence, also."

Has the offense improved?

"I don't know if you can really tell if it's better during practice," Newton said. "But when game situations come and you go back to your normal habits, that's when you'll see if there's improvement."


■ Phillips said that Collins Ukwu participated more in Thursday's practice and that the defensive end will be available to play on Saturday. Phillips stopped short of saying that Ukwu would play.

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