Kentucky football coach Joker Phillips made it no secret that he needed to see an efficient passing game out of his team this spring.
Quarterback Morgan Newton has done his part. The junior-to-be has looked sharp throwing the ball this spring, and he put his improved arm on display in the Blue-White Spring Game on Saturday by throwing for 256 yards and three touchdowns.
Newton had one gaffe, a pass that was intercepted and returned 33 yards for a touchdown by Josh Gibbs. But Phillips said that was caused partially by two receivers not being in the right place, and with a few exceptions, Newton was on the money with most of his throws.
"Night and day," Phillips said about how far Newton has come as a passer since the BBVA Compass Bowl in January. "For us to have success, we have to throw the football. We want to throw the football. I'm pleased with the way Morgan has progressed. He now understands the offense and changes protections, and I like the way he's handling himself in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage."
While Newton threw it well, catching the ball was another matter. The UK receivers dropped at least 10 passes, and many of Newton's incompletions came on balls that slipped through the fingertips of the Wildcats' wideouts.
Newton admitted the drops got to him but said he expects things to improve once he and the receivers are able to spend some time throwing and catching in the off-season.
"It's tough, but you've got to keep things in perspective," he said. "It's still early, and we've got a whole summer to work together, and we all need work."
The receivers weren't a total bust. Brian Adams caught seven passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns, and E.J. Fields made an acrobatic, one-handed grab for a 54-yard TD reception.
But receivers coach Tee Martin said the drops put a damper on the afternoon. Matt Roark caught five passes for 72 yards but also dropped three balls.
"It's bittersweet," Martin said. "We made some big plays, but also had some god-awful drops, and you just can't have that. It's hard to be pleased when you see so many balls go through guys' hands. It's just focus and guys wanting to run before they catch the ball."
As for the game, the Blue, consisting of mainly second-teamers, nipped the White, comprised of mainly starters, 31-28. The Blue, which was spotted a 14-0 lead at the start of the game, got the game-winning points on a line-drive 38-yard field goal from Joe Mansour with 51 seconds remaining.
Tailback Raymond Sanders ran for 85 yards on 12 carries, including a 28-yard touchdown scamper. Jonathan George added 27 yards on nine carries and had a 70-yard scoring run called back by a holding penalty.
The Cats are still feeling their way through new co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter's multiple scheme, but they still made quite a few big plays. They had 18 tackles for loss and 10 sacks, including two apiece by Justin Henderson, Ridge Wilson and Luke McDermott. They also intercepted two passes and had a fumble recovery.
"That's one of the things we want to do more of, making big plays and force turnovers," Phillips said. "I liked what I saw from us in that area."
Phillips said he's not too worried about the drops and expects the receivers to put in the extra time in the off-season to get it corrected.
"The thing I look at is how natural is he catching the football?" Phillips said. "And all our guys catch it naturally so it's not a big concern. We've got time. That's a skill you can perfect when the coaches are not around. You can get your mama to throw you the ball."
■ Safety Taiedo Smith was taken to the hospital for precautionary reasons after the game and was being evaluated for an unspecified condition, UK spokesman Tony Neely said.