On the best statistical night of his Kentucky career, Morgan Newton didn't get nearly enough help.
Against a determined Louisville defensive effort, UK couldn't run the ball. The Cats' struggling offensive front couldn't keep Newton on his feet, surrendering a whopping six sacks.
Still, as the fourth-quarter clock ticked toward 0:00, Newton put the Cats in position to tie in a game in which UK trailed throughout.
Down 24-17, Kentucky had a third-and-three at the Louisville 15 with 1:05 left. Catching the blitz-happy Cards with exactly the right play call, Newton hit true freshman wide receiver Demarco Robinson with a pass near the U of L 9-yard line.
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UK had the yardage for a first down and its hope was alive for a 14th fourth-quarter comeback win since 2006.
Then U of L's Stephan Robinson wrested the ball out of Demarco Robinson's hands. The UK receiver recovered, but at the 18.
One play later, Newton, under heavy pressure, misfired on a fourth-and-six pass to La'Rod King.
Make it Louisville 24, Kentucky 17. Make UK's four-year winning streak in our state's marquee football rivalry over. And you can mark UK's five-season bowl streak in serious jeopardy.
"It's tough," Newton said afterward. "This one is tough."
Kentucky lost in spite of a gutty effort from its junior quarterback. For only the second time in 12 career starts, the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder from Carmel, Ind., threw for more than 200 yards in a game.
Newton finished 27-for-41 for a career-high 255 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
A quarterback who had often struggled with getting the proper touch on short passes, showed marked improvement Saturday in front of 68,170 fans in Commonwealth Stadium.
"I'm getting more comfortable," Newton said. "I felt like I did a better job on the underneath stuff. Part of it, we had more opportunity to throw the ball tonight. If you get more chances, it figures you'll get more completions and yards."
UK needed Newton to work through the air, because it had no running game at all.
Even without the 62 yards it lost to sacks, Kentucky failed to rush for 100 yards (97). Take the sack yardage out, you were left with a grim figure, 35 yards.
"People get all caught up in throwing the football, well, I'd much rather run the ball for 255 and throw the ball for 35," Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips said. "You have to run the football to win games, you have to."
Forced to rely on its passing attack, Kentucky had trouble blocking Louisville in that phase, too.
A U of L defense that had only three sacks combined against Murray State and Florida International hung six on the Cats.
"I can't say that was all the offensive line," Newton said. "I've gotta help them by getting the ball out. There were a couple of plays where I needed to get rid of the ball and I didn't get it done."
For the first time this season, the UK quarterback had a receiver step up to complement King (seven receptions, 84 yards, a TD catch).
Former Frankfort High School star E.J. Fields — a fourth-year junior who had never caught a pass in an injury-plagued career — had seven catches Saturday for 57 yards and a touchdown. Fields' 2-yard TD reception from Newton with 4:56 left in the game pulled the Cats within 24-17 and gave UK a late chance to force overtime.
"I worked hard with E.J. all summer," Newton said. "I knew he was capable of playing like this."
After Newton and Fields hooked up on their late TD, the UK defense forced a three-and-out and gave Newton a chance to cap his best college game with a memorable comeback.
Instead, to salvage its season, Kentucky will have to surmount the rising negativity around its program after losing possession of the Governor's Cup for the first time since 2006. As for the bowl streak, it's not impossible to get the Cats to six wins in 2011, but this morning it looks unlikely.
If there was any good news from a loss Kentucky really, really couldn't afford, its quarterback looked more like the four-star recruit he once was than he ever had in a UK uniform.
Said Fields: "Morgan is getting better and better, more comfortable all the time. And we're getting more comfortable with playing with him."
On a morning when there isn't going to be any joy in the Kingdom of the Blue, that is at least something.
UK leads 14-9 all time; U of L leads modern-day series 9-8Date Location Winner Score
Oct. 26, 1912 Lexington Kentucky 41-0
Nov. 22, 1913 Louisville Kentucky 20-0
Nov. 14, 1914 Lexington Kentucky 42-0
Nov. 6, 1915 Louisville Kentucky 15-0
Oct. 14, 1922 Lexington Kentucky 73-0
Oct. 4, 1924 Lexington Kentucky 29-0
Sept. 3, 1994 Lexington Kentucky 20-14
Sept. 2, 1995 Lexington Louisville 13-10
Aug. 31, 1996 Lexington Louisville 38-14
Aug. 30, 1997 Lexington Kentucky 38-24
Sept. 5, 1998 Louisville Kentucky 68-34
Sept. 4, 1999 Lexington Louisville 56-28Date Location Winner Score
Sept, 2, 2000 Louisville Louisville x-40-34
Sept. 1, 2001 Lexington Louisville 36-10
Sept. 1, 2002 Louisville Kentucky 22-17
Aug. 31, 2003 Lexington Louisville 40-24
Sept. 5, 2004 Louisville Louisville 28-0
Sept. 4, 2005 Lexington Louisville 31-24
Sept. 3, 2006 Louisville Louisville 59-28
Sept. 15, 2007 Lexington Kentucky 40-34
Aug. 31, 2008 Louisville Kentucky 27-2
Sept. 19, 2009 Lexington Kentucky 31-27
Sept. 4, 2010 Louisville Kentucky 23-16
Sept. 17, 2011 Lexington Louisville 24-17