AUBURN, Ala. — Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks played coy all week about how he'd replace injured quarterback Mike Hartline, not announcing who his starter would be leading up to Saturday night's game at Auburn.
In actuality, it really didn't matter. Brooks put three quarterbacks behind center against the Tigers, and all three made major contributions to UK's 21-14 win that ended a 15-game losing streak that dated back to 1966.
True freshman Morgan Newton made his debut and scored his first career touchdown to get the Cats on the board in the second quarter. Junior Will Fidler came off the bench and scored the game-tying touchdown on a 2-yard run with 6:29 remaining in the game. And Randall Cobb, who wreaked havoc all night in the Wildcat formation, had a scintillating 61-yard run to set up his own 4-yard score with 3:17 left that proved to be the game-winner.
"It doesn't matter who's back there," junior running back Derrick Locke said. "They've all got the ability to get it done. Whoever's in there we're going to back them 100 percent. When Morgan came in, we were backing him up, when Will came in we were backing him up, and ya'll know Cobb is a fantastic athlete; of course we're going to back him up."
Cobb added to his growing legacy of late-game heroics. A week after marching the Cats on a late drive that brought them to within two points at South Carolina, UK again turned over the offense to Cobb, this time with the score tied at 14 with 5:08 remaining. On the second play of the drive, Cobb took the shotgun snap, veered right, then cut back to the middle of the field and raced 61 yards to the Auburn 3. Cobb then took a sweep around the left side to give the Cats their first lead of the game.
"I just get more hungry in the fourth quarter, and I want to do whatever I have to do to get us in the lead or keep the lead," Cobb said. "I just love playing the game, and the fourth quarter is when you've got to dig deep."
"He is the ultimate competitor and has a heart as big as this stadium," UK Coach Rich Brooks said of Cobb, who played despite battling ankle tendinitis in practice this week.
UK ran for a season-high 282 yards, the most against an SEC opponent since they racked up 301 on Mississippi State in 1995. Locke (19 carries, 126 yards) and Cobb (12 carries, 109 carries) both had career-highs. Kentucky also had no penalties and no turnovers.
"When we play clean, we are a good football team," UK head coach for offense Joker Phillips said. "We came in here and played our second and third quarterback and found a way to win the football game."
And once again, there was high praise for the offensive line, which paved the way for UK's first 100-yard rushers since Rafael Little gained 152 on Florida State in 2007 Music City Bowl.
"The line blocked the way they needed to block tonight," Locke said. "That's the first thing I did after the game was thank them. I've got the ability to do stuff, but I can't do it if they don't get it done."
Brooks said he had decided early in the week that Newton would be the starter. Fidler's surgically repaired shoulder flared up after he replaced Hartline in the South Carolina game. He was unable to throw Wednesday and Thursday.
"It's one of the few times I haven't been totally honest with the media," Brooks said. "I said it was a quarterback competition and it really wasn't. (Fidler) really didn't have a chance to compete."
But Fidler came through when his number was called Saturday night.
Newton went 5-for-13 passing for 39 yards and rushed for 15 yards on eight carries in his debut. His 4-yard run tied the game at 7 with 9:02 left in the second quarter. But while the UK defense was putting the clamps on the high-powered Auburn offense, the Cats started to stall offensively in the third quarter, and Brooks turned to Fidler.
"I thought Morgan did some good things early on, then when it looked like a guy wasn't open, he'd try and pull it down and run, and we took two or three sacks tonight. As the game wore on, he looked a little unsure in the passing game, so that's when I decided to put Fidler in."
Fidler immediately got the Cats in field-goal range, but Lones Seiber's 49-yard attempt went wide left with 24 seconds left in the third quarter, leaving Auburn ahead 14-7. But Fidler came right back on the next series and delivered a clutch 7-yard completion to T.C. Drake on 4th-and-3 before he bulled into the end zone from 2 yards out.
"The good news is, we had three touchdowns scored by two quarterbacks and a quasi-quarterback in Randall Cobb," Brooks said.
It was a long uphill battle for UK to get the lead. A week after giving up two long kickoff returns that led to two South Carolina scores and shanking a 5-yard punt that set up another, the Wildcats' special teams once again had several key breakdowns: Auburn blocked a field goal and returned it for a touchdown, and a 25-yard Ryan Tydlacka punt put Auburn in position for a go-ahead TD just before halftime.
But that was about the only glitch for the Cats. The UK defense delivered its best effort of the year. Auburn came into the game leading the SEC in total offense at 490 yards a game but was limited to 315 by coordinator Steve Brown's unit.
Now Kentucky will return to Lexington for a three-game home stand that starts with Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday.
"It puts us at 3-3 and 1-3 in the league," Brooks said. "That's not very good but it's better than a lot of people were expecting. We had a heartbreaking loss last week and that was a tough one to swallow. I am extremely pleased the way our players responded and the assistant coaches did a great job with the game plan in all phases."
■ UK's three starting linebackers all had double figures in tackles against Auburn. Danny Trevathan and Micah Johnson tied for the team lead with 14, and Sam Maxwell had 10.
■ Junior cornerback Paul Warford returned to the lineup after missing two games with a quadriceps injury and had a team-high four pass breakups.