Kentucky quarterback Morgan Newton hasn't dazzled anyone with his passing so far this young season. That might have to change if UK hopes to extend its winning streak against Louisville to five games.
At his weekly news conference Monday, UK Coach Joker Phillips noted how U of L's defense has limited its two opponents to an average of 94 rushing yards and an average of 2.5 yards per carry.
"They definitely stack the box and dare you to throw it," Phillips said. "Teams have had some success throwing the ball on them. We'll have to throw it consistently to have a chance to get them out of the box, so we can run the ball."
Newton, a junior in his first season as UK's No. 1 quarterback, has completed 44.4 percent of his passes in the first two games. He's thrown more interceptions (four) than touchdown passes (two).
When asked about Newton's statistics, Phillips countered by saying, "I can tell you this: He's had nine drops. Nine or 10 drops. Those hurt his numbers."
The UK coach noted that Newton has connected on throws down the field: a 46-yarder to La'Rod King and a 34-yarder to Gene McCaskill.
"But he also has to throw the underneath stuff better," said Phillips, noting that the shorter completions draw defenders closer to the line of scrimmage, thus opening up possibilities down field.
"But the thing that gives us the best chance to throw over their heads is throwing the ball efficiently," Phillips said.
The UK coach acknowledged that Newton can improve his accuracy in throwing screens, slants and assorted other dinks.
"A lot of that has to do with just lining up correctly," Phillips said. "Setting his feet and throwing the ball."
Newton must also put more touch on the shorter passes, the UK coach said. "Relax, first of all. Don't try to throw a fastball every time. Throw it with touch. Give them a chance to make a play."
Kentucky ranks outside the top 100 in the nation in passing offense (No. 115) and passing efficiency (No. 113). Conversely, Louisville's defense ranks No. 36 nationally in limiting rushing yardage, but it surrendered an average of 198 yards through the air in the first two games.
If Newton can loosen up Louisville's defense with passes, he might be among the beneficiaries. Phillips spoke of Newton as a running threat.
"We haven't been hesitant to run him," Phillips said before adding a wry comment. "And we heard the criticism when we did run him."
Phillips conceded that the criticism is not without merit. With a true freshman (Maxwell Smith) as the No. 2 quarterback, Kentucky does not want to expose Newton to too many hits.
"We have to be a little careful," Phillips said. "Morgan has to be smart how he runs also. He's a little bit upright in how he does run. You can't take (hits). You have to go underneath some of the tackles."
But, Phillips does not want Newton overly cautious. "If it's third and 10, I don't expect him to get down at eight or nine (yards downfield)," the UK coach said.
Phillips described the happy medium as a prudent Newton running when the opportunity presents itself.
"The thing Morgan has to do is when he drops back to pass, he needs to say, 'Is he open?' " Phillips said. "No. Is he open? No. Then he needs to run."That's when you have seen huge runs," the UK coach said.
Huge runs are what Louisville intends to prevent.
"If you can't run the football, then you're showing that you're not a tough football team," U of L Coach Charlie Strong said Monday when asked about the Cards' defensive philosophy. "And you have to have toughness in your program. How do you have the toughness? Go run the football. So we have to run the football, and our offensive line knows that."
U of L's only returning starter on the offensive line, center Mario Benavides, is expected to miss the game because of an ankle injury.
"It's going to be a game that's got to be won up front," Strong said. "So it's our defensive line against their offensive line, and their defensive line against our offensive line. Who's going to win that matchup? Who's going to win the up-front battle?"