UK Football

Why Hartline against Louisville? Because he's got the best shot

At 8-6, Mike Hartline has a better record after 14 games than Tim Couch, Andre Woodson and Jared Lorenzen had.
At 8-6, Mike Hartline has a better record after 14 games than Tim Couch, Andre Woodson and Jared Lorenzen had.

Here's what I wonder about Mike Hartline.

Each season, after he is named Kentucky's starting quarterback, does he have more trepidation at the prospect of facing fearsome Southeastern Conference pass rushes?

Or does he experience more dread over the hostile reaction from many UK fans that always accompanies the announcement that he's starting?

Poor Hartline.

No sooner Monday had Joker Phillips named the lanky senior from Canton, Ohio, as the man under center for the Sept. 4 season opener against Louisville than the radio talk shows and Internet message boards were filled with scorn over the decision.

In one way, I understand the fan kvetching over Hart-line.

The 6-foot-6, 210-pounder lacks the pizazz of Jared Lorenzen, the arm strength of Andre Woodson and the polish (not to mention overall talent level) of Tim Couch.

Unlike Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski, the two young QBs he beat out this summer, Hartline does not carry the air of fan expectancy that is created by entering college football with massive recruiting hype.

When it comes to criticism, Hartline is the velcro man. Everything sticks. Meantime, the facts in his favor seem discounted.

In 14 games as Kentucky starting QB, Hartline is 8-6. It is a better mark than his more celebrated UK predecessors Couch (6-8), Woodson (4-10) and Lorenzen (2-12) had in their initial 14 starts.

In 2008, Hartline led one of the epic fourth-quarter rallies in modern UK history, firing two touchdowns in the final five minutes to give Kentucky a 21-20 win over Bobby Petrino and Arkansas.

Later that season, playing while so ill he kept having to visit the bathroom in between offensive possessions, Hartline won Offensive Most Valuable Player honors in UK's Liberty Bowl victory over East Carolina.

Against one of the two teams Kentucky fans most want to beat — Louisville — Hartline is 2-0 as a starter.

That's not a résumé a UK QB should have to apologize for.

One of the big knocks on Hartline is that he doesn't have the talent to lead Kentucky to wins against elite foes.

He's yet to prove that one wrong. Inside Hartline's 8-6 mark as a UK starter, he is 7-0 in non-conference games and 1-6 in SEC contests.

Then again, all six of those losses are to three teams — two each to Florida, Alabama and South Carolina.

Holding the Tide and the Gators against Hartline is harsh. Other than against each other, Florida and Alabama combined have lost only one conference game in the past two seasons.

Last year, Hartline played the best half of football by a Kentucky quarterback all season at South Carolina. He had the Cats up on Steve Superior's lads early in the third period when the UK QB was knocked from the game with injury.

In the most important decision Phillips has made so far as Kentucky head coach, the popular thing for him to do would have been to go with Newton or Mossakowski at QB against Louisville.

After Hartline's injury last season, Newton was thrust into action as a true freshman and made eight starts. UK went 5-3, but Newton was far less than a polished presence in the pocket.

In those eight games, he threw for more than 100 yards only three times. Newton showed a strong arm, but he lacked touch on his throws. He seemed not to have mastered the mandatory QB skill of working through the progression of receivers from the pocket.

Even if Mossakowski turns out to be the long-term answer for Kentucky at QB, the redshirt freshman from Texas has never played in a college game.

It would be asking an awful lot to thrust him into our state's most intense rivalry on the road for his initial start.

Joker's first meeting with Louisville Coach Charlie Strong is more important than even the normal smackdown with U of L. It may not be make-or-break, but it "sets the tone" in the in-state football balance of power.

Phillips needs to beat Louisville.

It may not have been the sexy choice, but Mike Hartline at quarterback is Kentucky's best bet to do that.

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