As the poll we used to have on this website showed, the majority of fanbase wanted Morgan Newton to be named the starter for the UL game. Somewhere along the lines of 64%. That's a pretty large percentage when you consider there were 4 options. And I will admit that you can see the potential in Newton as being the future of the UK program. But, I will say that the opinion of Newton's play LAST YEAR may be slightly, if not greatly, overstated. In part this likely is due that people want to justify getting Mike Hartline off the field. And in part, it has to do with Newton being the stud QB that Kentucky hyped up so much.
But, Newton's individual play, when actually examined, says to me that Joker made the right decision in putting Hartline on the field. Let's take a quick look at Newton last year, game by game:
(First, keep in mind that when Hartline went down with injury last year, it was Will Fidler who took over, not Newton.)
AUBURN (W 21-14)
5-13, 39 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
-This is a game that goes down as a win in Newton's records. It's something that fans have used for the Newton argument over and over again. They say he beat Auburn andGeorgia on the road. We will get to Georgia in a second, but the Auburn game, in no way, was Newton's win. In fact, Newton was yanked at halftime of that game, and Will Fidler actually scored the game tying touchdown. The real reason they won that game was the running game (289 yards) and the defense. So, Newton wasn't exactly a standout here.
Louisiana-Monroe (W 36-13)
3-6, 17 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT
-After starting 1 game, Newton was pulled as the starter for Fidler in this game. Then in the small action he got, he threw a pick. Another less than stellar performance.
Mississippi State (L 31-24)
11-18, 118 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT
-Newton was better in this game, although UK used a rush-heavy attack and kept the passes conservative. But, Newton did play a very solid first half. But, when the game was on the line in the 4th quarter, Newton threw an interception in the red zone and then took a sack on 4th down in UK's final possession, also in the red zone. The guy was a freshman, so I cut him some slack with his 4th quarter performance. But, through this game, Newton had 174 yards passing and no touchdowns.
Eastern Kentucky (W 37-12)
20-29, 187 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
-You look at that stat line and think Newton had a good game. UK only led 17-6 at the halftime, with Newton throwing for 58 yards. Then, he found a better grove in the 2nd half , throwing for 2 scores. This was another game where Newton was really held back in the play calling, but the stats against a 1-AA opponent don't really blow me away. Definitely his best performance at that point though.
Vanderbilt (W 24-13)
4-7, 40 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT
-How bad was this performance? Well, Newton only threw 7 passes the entire game, and Derrick Locke threw for more yards in this game than Newton. So now, at this point in the season, Newton had 3 wins on his resume as a starter. He was pulled from the game in one, played a Sun Belt school in 1, and was out-passed by his running back in the 3rd. Wins are wins. But Newton was not the reason that UK got those wins.
Georgia (W 34-27)
9-17, 137 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT
-Absolutely Morgan Newton's shining game last season. And yet, he only completed 9 passes in what was his shining game. 3 touchdown passes is great, right? Two of those touchdowns were screen passes to Derrick Locke. Passes that Mike Hartline would have also made. I am not taking this win away from Newton, because it was his best leadership and decision making performance, but it still was a GREAT performance.
Tennessee (L 30-24)
10-22, 69 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT
-Bad, bad, bad. UK had no passing attack this game, and essentially gave up on throwing in the 2ndhalf. A second half and overtime in which UK scored 3 points total. Now, Newton was starting for the 6th time this season, so I expected him to have shown some improvement by this point. If anything, he underperformed.
Clemson (L 21-13)
13-23, 98 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
-After leading UK to a great first drive, including a beautiful TD pass, Newton was non-existent after that. No touchdowns the rest of the game. In the last 6 quarters and an overtime of last season, UK scored one touchdown. ONE!
Again, I almost hate writing this post because I am actually encouraged by Newton for the future. He showed some flashes of being a very good QB. But overall, Newton's play was below average and he rarely ever moved the offense with consistency. Mike Hartline at least showed in the beginning of last season that he could move the offense. Or at least with more consistency than Newton.
Point being, I think Morgan Newton should see the field a good amount of time this season. But the misperception that Newton was a key cog last season is inaccurate. The stat that Newton was 4-3 as a starter is accurate, but he was actually pulled for other QB's in 2 of those wins. In his 7 starts, he threw for under 100 yards 4 times, and did not throw a touchdown pass in 4 games.
The QB situation at UK is murky at best. There is no obvious option, but every option has it's flaws. And as much as it may pain UK fans to hear this, Mike Hartline's flaws are the best option for UK THIS YEAR.