You know that person. You went to high school, college or grad school with them. Somewhere along the way, you met a girl or guy and wondered, "Why doesn't he sit at the cool kids table, why is no one asking her out, why isn't that guy one of the school studs, why are there not guys swarming all around her?" Then you finally talked to him or her. They were nice and polite, said and did the right things and sure were attractive. But there was no edge there, a lack of a certain confidence, they were bland, stayed on safe topics and, well, were almost too nice. This person may not have been out of your league, but you didn't care because you no longer saw them that way. And that is how they moved on, from interaction to interaction.
Here is the thing, that person probably didn't want to be on the homecoming court, or be voted most attractive, or do whatever it is that the people in that upper echelon cared about. They were who they were, and, well that was okay with them as it should have been with everyone else. But some of those people really wanted to sit at the cool kids table, and for whatever reason, never made that transformation.
Three years into his college career, Morgan Newton is that person on the football field. He has the size, the smarts, the arm and the four star pedigree. Morgan has played in the SEC before, started big games and more importantly, found a way to win some of them. But while he prepares for the sixth start of his junior year and 13th of his career, it seems increasingly clear that Newton is never going to be the BMOC. He doesn't have the moxie or demeanor to carry a poor offense with few playmakers and frankly, isn't going to be dealt a much better hand his senior year. There isn't a fire there, and Newton by now is aware he is running out of chances to get it lit.
The Cats' catastrophic breakdown on offense has been nothing short of a total team effort. The offensive line, so touted before the season, has left an infinite amount to be desired. As promising as Josh Clemons has looked at times, our runners don't seem to hit the few holes they do get with the necessary zest. A lot has been made about dropped passes. Very little has been said about our receivers' inability to get open. Other than a couple of random blown coverages, how many throws has Newton made to a wide open receiver this year? Too few. That never happens to Arkansas or Oklahoma State. It isn't just their guys catching the ball, it is them finding soft spots in the zone or running away from their man and giving their QB an easy throw and themselves the chance to make a big play, not just a seven yard catch in traffic.
The coaching staff has to share the blame. For one thing, UK got caught with its pants down when Randall Cobb decided to go pro. That decision left the Cats with no proven playmakers and, frankly, without any viable plan for replacing them. Then the offensive line turned out to be shockingly poor. This came as a surprise to me and probably to you too. Apparently, it also came as a complete surprise to people inside the program, which is unacceptable. At some point the staff had to realize that the O-Line was not going to be the backbone of our team, and we were going to have to tweak what we were going to do on offense.
Of course, this leads to my biggest complaint with the offensive staff, its inability to adjust to what has happened this year. Our game plan last week appeared predicated on being somehow able to blow LSU off the ball and gain yards between the tackles. Rock 'em sock 'em football. Straight ahead. How realistic was that? UK ran one counter play all day and it went for 8 or 9 yards. No reverses or any other effort at misdirection. If Newton had run a naked bootleg in the 4th quarter, the LSU defense would have been so shocked he'd have run to New Orleans.
But, put Les Miles on Kentucky's sidelines and my Mom on LSU's, and LSU still wins that game. Ultimately, good talent makes smart coaches. Randy Sanders did not forget how to coach offense over the last 12 months. Maybe he is being more rigid than I'd like him to be, but he knows 100X as much about football than I do and I'm sure he has his reasons. He is doing his best, that is for sure.
Because the pressure is mounting.
Joker yesterday made reference to removing Cobbins redshirt to see if he could be the missing playmaker at QB or some other position. If he does so, one thing is easy to glean. Phillips realizes he is coaching for his job, and unless things turn around, he won't be around in 2015 to reap the benefits of Cobbins' redshirt.
All of which brings us back to Newton. Against WKU, he looked so nervous that I thought the ball would just fly out of his hands, culminating in an emblematic play where he tripped over his own feet. Not much has gone right since. He has had some commendable moments, especially against Louisville where it appeared that the rest of the team was crumbling around him and he nearly led UK to a comeback win. But there have been too many errant passes, too much holding on to the ball, not enough effort to extend plays in order to make a play and apparently, a lack of leadership.
Newton is performing below the level that got Mike Hartline replaced midway through 2008 and, sadly below the level that he himself established as a freshman in 2009. Granted, both he and Hartline had better players around them, but sometimes "heavy is the head that wears the crown." As noted above, there is plenty of blame to go around, but Joker now seems done pretending that Newton isn't at least part of the problem. If there were a viable second option, he would have been replaced already. In truth, there may be none.
Word from Phillips is that grayshirt freshman. Maxwell Smith will see playing time at QB this week and that we could see Cobbins there or in another spot in the lineup. I'd be surprised, however, if either actually gave the Cats a better chance to win. I suspect that this is part desperation and part motivational tool. Joker is trying to push the right button. If he finds out one of his other QBs is a gamer who plays bigger than he practices, good. If he gets a sense of urgency into Newton's head and it forces him to play the way he would appear capable, all the better.
It would be important to show some life offensively against the South Carolina Gamecocks. Even if we cannot win the game, it is our last chance to get some reps in before the season starts again in earnest on October 22. On that day, the Cats start a critical four game stretch of what once appeared to be winnable games. If we cannot win three, which will be a tall order, the season is down the tubes.
If UK cannot revive its offense, there will be a ton of blame to go around. Only one person can lead the way, and for better or worse he wears #12. Morgan, your seat at the cool table awaits.