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Kentucky Football: Did Joker Phillips Make The Right Call?

In blogging, inspiration is where you find it.  My inspiration for this article came from a relatively unlikely place, in the overall scheme of things -- Mike over at Card Chronicle.  Specifically, this paragraph:

My question is this: are you glad that it's Hartline and not Morgan Newton? I'll say it, I am.

I understand that Hartline is a heady player and that he's already beaten Louisville twice, but he possesses nowhere near the skill set that Newton does, and in situations like these I'll always take the option of facing the less-talented quarterback. The lack of size on U of L's defensive line has received a lot of attention this offseason, but its secondary isn't exactly 2001 Miami-esque. Knowing that Kentucky isn't going to start the guy who's most capable of hitting an open receiver in stride 45 yards down the field gives me at least a semblance of piece of mind.

Far be it from me to suggest we should be concerned about what our rivals think, but Mike does make a good point.  Morgan Newton has a far more diverse skill package than Mike Hartline.  The problem with Newton last year is that he threw the ball to the wrong places far too often, and I think that problem is still there.

But Hartline has not shown the ability to do much more than confidently manage the football game.  His arm strength is sub-par, and I doubt if that has improved much, although you never know.  Instead of tight spirals, he has a tendency to throw floaters on routes over 10 yards, and I always cringe a little when Hartline drops back to throw the ball downfield.

At the end of the day, though, Kentucky's offensive strengths this year are not going to be at quarterback, no matter who is throwing the football.  Ryan Mossakowski reportedly has the best SEC-quality passing skills, but he is young and not quite ready to take the reigns.  Newton has experience, but he has issues with his decision-making that seem to still be haunting him.  Which leaves Hartline.

There is no doubt that Mike Hartline is competent as a quarterback in the game management and decision-making areas.  He has a good head on his shoulders, can see over the defense, and rarely makes the egregious error that will cost a team six points.  No matter what you think of him athletically, mentally Hartline is the clear and unambiguous choice, which tells us, given the length of time it took to name him the starter, that the holes in his game athletically almost made the difference.

Chip Cosby's article today seems to suggest that the QB competition was very close, even with Hartline's edge in experience and age:

The decision wore on the coaches even more than the players. Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders had his share of quarterback competitions at Tennessee — "It seems like I've gone through this every year," he said — and it hasn't gotten any easier.

The example of Will Fidler last year was also mentioned, and that was a case where Fidler's weaknesses athletically were just too great to overcome with experience.

I suppose we can look at this as "glass half-full" as easily has half-empty -- that all the QB's were really great, and what we are talking about is just a little bit of difference in how good rather than how bad.  Honestly, the truth probably lies somewhere in-between, but it just seems to me that the length of time it took to name Hartline makes that endorsement ring about as well as a cracked bell -- more of a "thunk" than a "ding."

This could be the first major faux pas of Phillips' career at head coach if Hartline falls flat.  Phillips and Co. already look indecisive in this affair, and if the QB position  turns out to be a major reason for a poor performance against the Louisville Cardinals, Phillips could wind up wasting much of the goodwill he gets for moving up to the head coaching position.  Even if Hartline plays well, there will be some serious repercussions directed at Phillips and Hartline if Kentucky loses to Louisville.

In the final analysis, Hartline would have been a safe pick early in August.  Waiting until late made it more risky than it should have been.