Mike Hartline went down Saturday during what may have been the best performance of his career. After taking criticism from fans and experts alike, he was answering them with a gritty, no-nonsense, almost business-like approach against South Carolina. While his receivers were dropping passes they should have been catching, Hartline simply kept putting the ball where it needed to be to get the job done. And then, when it looked like he was getting the upperhand for the first time all day, a freak hit to the knee may have ended his season.
Watching the replays of the hit reminded me of watching Carson Palmer go down at Cincinnati a couple of years back against Pittsburgh. As Tru so aptly put it, knees are not meant to bend that way. Every severe knee injury I have ever seen a quarterback take is when they were doing something our high school football coach used to scream about to our quarterback, and I never understood why until I saw my first serious knee injury on TV. Some quarterback coaches teach their quarterbacks not to "sidestep", or "shuffle" their feet. The theory is. that you dont move far enough to evade the tackler in the pocket. They teach the QB's to "pick up" their feet, and use a running motion when going from side to side, or backwards, to avoid that happening. I cannot tell you as to whether or not it works, just that I noticed that Hartline was shuffling his feet when the injury occurred trying to evade the tackler. That front foot gets planted to make a throw, and it is hard to make yourself pick it up and not simply drag it back.
All that having been said, we are now faced with a dilemma. One that if we dont answer it properly will cost us the rest of this season and a good start on next year. We need to make sure that Mike Hartline having to sit out for injury is not wasted time. Our situation is thus. Will Fidler is our backup. He took 8 attempts at throws yesterday and completed 2 passes. Not good by any stretch, however, on a side note, Brady Anderson of the Cleveland Browns yesterday only completed 2 passes on 17 attempts. We are not that bad yet. Will has, according to Coach Brooks taken more snaps than anyone remaining available with the first offensive unit. We have 7 games remaining against a set of teams that well, to be honest, do not inspire fear in the hearts of men. Auburn would be the most scary at this point, had they not have gotten spanked by Arkansas on Saturday themselves. They are still a dangerous opponent, but they have weak spots that can be exploited. Our season may very well come down to a showdown with Tennessee in Commonwealth Stadium on November 28th. This game will , in my opinion, either be the game we need to win to get to a bowl, or be our bowl game for this year. we have 6 weeks to get ready for it, and we need to make some hard choices.
Our offensive guru and HCIW Joker Phillips is really going to have to earn his pay the next few weeks to pull this season out. We either have to make Will Fidler an SEC capable quarterback in 5 days, or we are looking at 2-4 going into LA-Monroe. My personal opinion is that he will not be able to make a major transition into the man to lead this team. I could be, and I hope that I am wrong on this. But if I am not, Then we have to make the difficult call to start developing Morgan Newton into the quarterback of the future for the Wildcats. He is going to make mistakes, throw picks, and fumble the football, that is almost a given. But he has the tools to be an SEC quarterback. Brooks has said he has to improve on his decision making skills, and that may only improve with game experience. Our schedule allows for some mistakes over the next few weeks and still putting W's in the books. The games may not be blowouts, and may be more reasons for all of us to break out the Prilosec and Valium, but they represent an opportunity for Newton to gain the experience he needs to be successful in the SEC against less than stellar competition. There is not one unwinnable game left on our schedule. We can pull this off, and still do what we need to, so that next year if the same thing happens, we are not caught with our pants around our ankles.
Injuries happen, and that is unfortunate. Mike was trying his best to show everyone that he deserved to be where he was, leading this team, and he gave a great effort. Let's not waste it, Coach. It is a hard call, and it would take a real gut check by this team and it's staff to make it work. But you had enough faith in this kid to recruit him, he has skills and a 5-star arm. Teach him what to do and let him lead. I don't think you will be disappointed.