Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips ended weeks of suspense and speculation on Monday when he named Mike Hartline his starting quarterback for the Wildcats' opener at Louisville on Sept. 4.
Hartline, a fifth-year senior, beat out sophomore Morgan Newton and redshirt freshman Ryan Mossakowski. Phillips said Hartline made the fewest mistakes among the three quarterbacks, and he said there was always some separation between Hartline and the other two.
"He was slightly ahead at all times, there was no question about that," Phillips said. "But it wasn't far enough ahead to where we felt we had to make a decision. If we had made the decision in the spring or at the beginning of fall camp, I don't think it would have been fair to the other guys who are a little bit younger. We had to give those guys a chance to compete. But at this point in time, Mike gives us the best chance to win."
Hartline is 8-6 in 14 career starts and has completed 56.7 percent of his passes for 2,502 yards with 15 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He started the first five games last season before injuring his knee against South Carolina. Newton then took over and the Cats went 5-3 down the stretch, including road wins at Auburn and Georgia.
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Hartline said he thought his experience played a big role in the decision.
"You go out there and try and play as fast as you can," he said. "I still have that acceleration as far as playing fast, managing the play clock, keeping a good down and distance and keeping the chains moving."
Shortly after the announcement, Hartline said he was glad the competition was over and that the team can now focus on Louisville.
"I think it's great that (the offense) finally knows who the quarterback is," Hartline said. "We've gone two weeks now and didn't know who the quarterback was. Once we got that out of the way, it's time to get ready for Louisville."
Phillips said the No. 2 spot is still up for grabs between Newton and Mossakowski, who Phillips said made the most improvement in fall camp. Mossakowski redshirted last fall while recovering from shoulder surgery. Phillips said there's currently a 'slash' between Newton and Mossakowksi for the backup job.
"I know that you guys are probably saying 'that's a bailout,' but they are slash," Phillips said. "That competition is an ongoing competition at this time. On Sept. 4 it'll be a feel thing as far as what do we need. They both do different things, so it will be what we need at that specific time."
Phillips said he wouldn't rule out putting the backup in the game if the offense needs a jump start, but he said he will not set aside a specific series during the games to do so.
"I don't think that's fair to the guy who wins the job," Phillips said. "I don't think you can say he gives us the best chance to win and then pull him out. Mike Hartline's our guy."
Mossakowski took the news well and said he'll support Hartline "110 percent."
"Mike's been here a long time, he knows the offense well, he knows the guys, everybody knows him, it just kind of falls into place perfectly," he said. "I know the coaching staff made the right decision."
Newton seemed to take the news harder. When asked what his response to the decision was, he said, "(You) just take it, I guess. I worked hard, that's pretty much all I know."
When asked whether he was disappointed, Newton added, "Yeah, you come out here and try and compete and put yourself in position to play, and when it doesn't work out, yeah."
Hartline has had his share of critics while at UK, but he said he's ready to tune all of that out and lead the offense.
"Been through it all," Hartline said. "I'm ready. Like I said back at Media Day, no matter what happens, I'm still going to be here. All that matters to me is my teammates, my coaches and my family, and I'm going to go from there."