October 1, 2011

Newton struggles, but remains starter after 35-7 loss at LSU

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Morgan Newton fired to Matt Roark and was incomplete. He passed to La'Rod King and the ball fell harmlessly to the turf. He looked at Tyler Robinson, but misfired on consecutive attempts there.

He started the first half 0-8 passing. Kentucky's junior quarterback accounted for just five yards of offense at halftime after completing two of his final three passes before the break. The Wildcats (2-3, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) trailed No. 1 Louisiana State (5-0, 2-0 SEC) 14-0 at the half thanks to a defense that stymied the Tigers' powerful rushing attack early.

Newton's performance in the first half relegated him to the bench when the Wildcats returned in the third quarter. True freshman Maxwell Smith started the second half in his place at the suggestion of offensive coordinator Randy Sanders.

"We thought we needed a spark and we wanted to give Morgan a chance to sit back and start the game from a distance," Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips said.

But he would fare no better. He finished the day 1-5 for nine yards before being benched himself as the Tigers pulled away for a 35-7 win. Smith was sacked late in the third quarter by LSU corner Tyrann Mathieu, who forced a fumble, picked it up, and ran 23 yards for a touchdown to take a 28-0 lead. By then, it was all but over.

UK's offense finished with 155 total yards on offense, but 96 of those came in the fourth quarter with the outcome decided. "Fool's gold," as Newton described it after the game. LSU's defense dominated the UK offense, which averaged 1.4 yards per play in the first quarter.

There were tackles for loss. Stuffed runs. Pass attempts with no chance of being completed. Three-and-outs. And until late in the fourth quarter, there was a shutout. UK couldn't muster a play of longer than 19 yards the entire game. The Wildcats didn't gain a first down until just before halftime.

Newton, who said he was surprised to be benched at halftime, returned in the fourth quarter after Smith struggled and did lead the offense to a touchdown - a four-yard strike to Roark. The fourth quarter cushioned his final numbers, but it was still the worst game of his career. He finished 6-20 for 57 yards as the passing game continued to struggle.

"It seems like when the plays are there to be made, we haven't made them," Newton said. "It's going to take a whole unit to get that fixed."

True freshman tailback Josh Clemons, making his first start on the road in the SEC, was the Wildcats' only source of offense for much of the day. He finished with 21 carries for 69 yards. Phillips praised him after the game for his improved blocking, but he still averaged just 3.3 yards per carry.

That wasn't enough to cover up the rest of the problems on offense.

"We did not play nearly like we needed to play," Sanders said. "It wasn't assignment errors like it was earlier in the year. It appeared to be more technical things, fundamentals."

Phillips said Newton would remain the starter going forward, though Smith might continue to see playing time. Two games into a three-game stretch against some of the conference's elite teams, things don't figure to get any easier against South Carolina next week.

"We have to find out if our kids are willing to fight, scratch and claw," Phillips said. "I think they are. Every person in that room."

Game notes

-Kentucky's touchdown late in the fourth quarter prevented the Wildcats from being shut out for a third consecutive game in Baton Rouge. UK was shut out 49-0 in 2006 and 34-0 in 2000. The last time UK had scored in Tiger Stadium was during a 39-36 win in 1998.

The touchdown pass, which went from Newton to Roark, was the first of Roark's career.

-Senior linebacker [db]Danny Trevathan, who had 12 consecutive games with at least 10 tackles before registering eight last week against Florida, had 13 to lead all players on Saturday.

Four Wildcats finished with at least 10 tackles. Senior linebacker Winston Guy had 12, including two tackles for loss, senior linebacker Ronnie Sneed had 11 and junior safety Martavius Neloms had 10.

-LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson saw his first action of the season on Saturday. He was expected to start for the Tigers this season, but was suspended on Aug. 26 after they allegedly participated at a fight at a bar near campus..

He was reinstated to the team on Thursday when his charge of second-degree battery, a felony, was reduced to simple battery, a misdemeanor. He entered the field to boos before LSU fans cheered when the Tigers elected to try for the touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the one.

Jefferson kept the ball and shoved his way into the endzone on a quarterback sneak. It was the 10th rushing touchdown of the senior's career. That tied him for 5th all time on LSU's career rushing touchdown list.

-Sanders said LSU's defense was about as fast as Florida's. When pressed as to which defense was faster, he said it was difficult to tell.

"There comes a point there where faster is negligible," Sanders said. "It's like being more pregnant. When you're as fast as both those teams are, you're fast."

-Senior safety Mychal Bailey actually finished second for UK in all-purpose yards. He returned three kickoffs for 66 yards. Clemons' 69 rushing yards led the team in all-purpose yards, while Newton was third.

Injury report

Senior defensive tackle Mark Crawford, playing for the first time this season, sprained his left shoulder. Junior linebacker Ridge Wilson injured a finger on his right hand. He'll undergo an X-ray after returning to Lexington.

Freshman quarterback Maxwell Smith injured his back and jaw.



 

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