Facing what many consider a must-win game at Mississippi State this weekend, Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks has decided to make a quarterback change.
Brooks announced Monday that freshman Randall Cobb would start in place of sophomore Mike Hartline.
Cobb becomes the first true freshman to start at quarterback for UK since Tim Couch made his Wildcat debut at Florida in 1996.
Asked what swayed the decision in Cobb's favor, Brooks said, "Production."
Hartline started against Florida, but went just 7-for-16 passing for 33 yards. He also threw an interception that was returned 40 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the second half.
Cobb, meanwhile, went 9-for-18 for 78 yards and had a team-high 52 yards rushing. He escaped pressure a couple of times to scramble for first downs. He also led UK on its only scoring drive, culminated by a 27-yard Lones Seiber field goal.
For the season, Cobb has completed 54.5 percent of his passes (18-for-33), compared with 54.3 (139-for-256) for Hartline. Cobb's pass-efficiency rating is 112.96, while Hartline's is 101.7.
The biggest difference is on the ground. Cobb, in limited snaps, has carried 23 times for 109 yards (4.7 average) and two touchdowns. Hartline has minus-9 yards on 19 carries.
Also, Kentucky has scored just 24 first-quarter points in eight games, and seven of those came on Trevard Lindley's 28-yard interception return against South Carolina. That also is UK's only first-quarter touchdown in four Southeastern Conference games.
"We've been starting slow the last several weeks," Brooks said. "When Randall is inserted we at least seem to be able to move the ball, and I think he gives the defense a little more problem with his feet and ability to improvise. We just think Randall can give us a little spark and a little more diversity in what we're able to do on offense."
Cobb got his first extensive action at quarterback in the season's second game, a 38-3 win over Norfolk State. He led UK to touchdowns on his first three possessions, scoring twice on the ground and completing a 14-yard TD pass to Dicky Lyons Jr.
Cobb suffered a high ankle sprain in the first quarter of the next game, against Middle Tennessee State. He missed most of the next two games as well as valuable practice time.
He slowly worked himself back in the mix at quarterback while also playing receiver, and caught two TD passes from Hartline in the final four minutes of UK's 21-20 come-from-behind win over Arkansas.
Brooks said Cobb has gotten a better grasp of the offense at quarterback since he's returned from injury.
"He's still got a lot to catch up on, but what he's got in his bonnet is pretty good," Brooks said. "He understands things pretty good."
Cobb has started the last two games at receiver and is third on the team with 18 catches for 164 yards. Brooks said that junior E.J. Adams and freshman Gene McCaskill would start at receiver this week.
Brooks said he informed both quarterbacks of his decision on Monday. He said that Hartline will still see action as a backup.
"(Hartline) is disappointed, but I think he'll handle it well," Brooks said.
Free safety open
Brooks said there would likely be a change at strong safety after redshirt freshman Matt Lentz struggled against Florida. Junior Ashton Cobb is second on the depth chart behind Lentz and junior Calvin Harrison has seen time there as well.
Pryor, Johnson doubtful for MSU
Defensive tackle Myron Pryor and middle linebacker Micah Johnson are both doubtful for the Mississippi State game with high ankle sprains.
Pryor was injured against Arkansas and missed the Florida game. Johnson originally injured his ankle against Middle Tennessee and missed two games. He re-aggravated the injury at Florida.
Brooks listed tight end Maurice Grinter (ankle), right tackle Justin Jeffries (knee) and free safety Marcus McClinton (knee) as questionable.