Tag:Morgan Newton
Posted on: April 27, 2011 5:49 pm
 

What I Learned This Spring: SEC East

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

With all six spring games completed, we wrap up spring practice in the SEC East, team by team. In alphabetical order:


FLORIDA: When spring began, we said the Gators might have the most interesting offense in the country. Urban Meyer's former spread-option death machine, destroyed and rebuilt from the ground up, by none other than Charlie Weis, in the image of the steady no-frills pro-style attacks Will Muschamp saw work for old boss Nick Saban, as piloted by 2011-or-bust quarterback John Brantley? That's quite the storyline they've got going there.

But the Gators will have to hope it's a story that will be rewritten come the fall. While no one was expecting the offense to look like Weis's old New England Patriot attacks after three weeks of practice, no one was expecting it to put on a 13-10 spring game universally panned as a hideous eyesore, either. Brantley went an ugly 4-of-14 after missing his first six passes, the leading rusher was a walk-on defensive back, and the entire offensive output for the game amounted to 340 yards.

Much of that can be pinned on a wicked rash of injuries that took out most of the offensive line, an entire stable of running backs, multiple receivers, etc.; encouragingly, much of it can also be pinned on a rampaging defensive line led by Sharrif Floyd, Dominique Easley and Ronald Powell, all members of Meyer's loaded 2010 class and all looking posied to make good on their five-star hype. But the bottom line is that much of it can also be pinned squarely on Brantley, who Muschamp and his other coaches universally lauded for an excellent spring but who showed little of that alleged improvement when playing in public.

Does it matter? Give him a solid summer and a solid fall camp, and it may not. But until Brantley proves he's something other than what he's appeared to be since the moment Tim Tebow left -- in over his head -- skepticism is in order.

GEORGIA: The biggest question entering the most critical spring of Mark Richt's spring tenure concerned the Bulldogs' biggest players: could their offensive line bounce back? When you have Aaron Murray, Orson Charles, a fleet of talented (if still unproven) receivers, and eventually Isaiah Crowell, if you have a line, you're going to have a heck of an offense.

There was good news and bad news on that front, the latter a devastating torn ACL suffered by fifth-senior and projected starting tackle Trinton Sturdivant. But there were positives, too, namely a terrific spring from potential All-SEC  center Ben Jones and guard-to-tackle position switch Cordy Glenn. G-day primary tailbacks Ken Malcome and Caleb King combined for 69 yards on 12 carries, a not-so-shabby 5.8 yards per-carry. Overall, the line was impressive enough this spring that senior Justin Anderson -- billed as a potential starter on the OL -- has been moved to defense.

The Dawgs had themselves a fine spring on the defensive front as well, with newly bulked-up nose tackle Kwame Geathers the talk of the Bulldogs' spring camp and converted safety Alec Ogletree providing a big boost the linebacking corps. The secondary is unsettled and one of those aforementioned receivers needs to emerge as a go-to target for Murray, but if the improvements in the front seven and offensive line aren't mirages, the Bulldogs wil be back in the thick of the East race all the same.

KENTUCKY: Consider it a successful second spring for Joker Phillips and the Wildcats. We noted that with nearly all of the major players from 2010's surprisingly effective Wildcat passing game gone, Phillips would want to make rebuilding that passing attack around junior quarterback Morgan Newton priority No. 1 in spring camp. And though we'll have to wait until fall to see the finished results, for now it looks like Mission Accomplished: Newton had a terrific spring, capped by a 23-of-44, 256-yard, three-touchdown performance in the Wildcats' Blue-White Game.

Things weren't perfect: the Wildcat receivers were plagued by drops, and a defense still adjusting to new co-coordinator Rick Minter's aggressive schemes paired several big plays with several breakdowns. But with Newton cementing himself as a reliable option under center and a veteran line paving the way for new tailback Raymond Sanders to average better than 7 yards a carry, there's far more optimism for the Wildcat offense coming out of spring than going in.

SOUTH CAROLINA: Whatever storyline you might have constructed ahead of time for the Gamecocks' spring, it was always going to overshadowed by the continuing Stephen Garcia circus. Until Carolina receives a definitive word one way or the other on Garcia's return (though as we wrote earlier today, that return seems likely), the team is going to be in something close to suspended football animation.  The lack of developments aside from Garcia was only enhanced by the fact that so many of Carolina's key players -- Marcus Lattimore, Alshon Jeffery, Stephon Gilmore, an offensive line with four returning starters -- are known commodities.

That said, the Garnet-Black Game showed that if Garcia doesn't come back, the Gamecocks won't be totally lost at quarterback. Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson combined to go a productive 23-of-40 for 344 yards (though Thompson threw a pair of picks), and on an offense with weapons like Lattimore, Jeffery, and tailback Kenny Miles (43 yards on just 6 carries in the spring game), "productive" should be enough.

The downside: those passing numbers came against a Gamecock secondary that got routinely torched in 2010 (FBS 97th in pass defense). Garcia or no Garcia, more improvement in that secondary will be necessary to take Carolina back to Atlanta.

TENNESSEE: Entering spring, the road to improvement for the Volunteers was clear: get stronger, more physical, better along each line of scrimmage, then let the Vols' cadre of up-and-coming skill position stars -- led by sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray -- do the rest.

The Vols made plenty of headway on the first part of that equation; the White team earned a dominant victory over the more starter-heavy Orange in the Vol spring game thanks in no small part to a bruising run game led by second-string tailback Raijon Neal; defensive linemen on both squads were able to get consistent quarterback pressure; and offensive lineman Alex Bullard and defensive tackle Daniel Hood won the team's top awards for spring performance. Both lines remain so young that there's still a long way to go to SEC dominance, but it seems unlikely they'll be pushed around the way they were at times in 2010, either.

But as for the other part of the equation, stay tuned. Bray went a miserable 5-for-30 quarterbacking the defeated Orange side, with Derek Dooley suggesting afterwards that perhaps Bray had been overconfident. Bray is expected to take a major step forward in his first full season as the Vols' starter, but if that step winds up as minor as the spring game proposes it might be, all the line improvement in the world won't push the Vols back into relevance in the SEC East.

VANDERBILT: When you finished last season dead last in the conference in both total offense and total defense -- and you are Vanderbilt -- any kind of improvement in any area will be music to new coach James Franklin's ears. But fortunately for the 'Dores, they saw some green shoots in two positions that have been partocularly troublesome the past few seasons.

One is quarterback , where previously scattershot senior Larry Smith completed 16-of-26 for 233 yards and a touchdown, leading his Black side to a 19-7 win over the Gold. The other is the defensive line , where defensive tackle Colt Nichter recorded a pair of sacks and defensive end Kyle Woestmann collected a sack and an interception. But when you're Vandy, you'll take whatever you can get.

"The big thing," Franklin said, "is that we stayed healthy."

For the same review of the SEC West, click here.

Posted on: March 30, 2011 6:56 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Kentucky

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice  . So we here at the Eye on College Football will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Kentucky, which started spring practice last week.

Spring Practice Question: Can the 'Cats find a passing game?

When all was said and done, the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats were about what the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats were supposed to be: good enough to scrape to a low-level bowl game (the Birmingham-based BBVA Compass Bowl) , good enough for one major upset (against South Carolina) and a couple of scares, but not good enough to make any real noise even in a watered-down SEC East (2-6 conference record), and not nearly good enough to regain the momentum and top-25 attention from the Andre Woodson glory years. Around .500 was where the Wildcats were expected to finish, and around .500 -- 6-7 following the bowl loss to Pitt, specifically -- was where they wound up.

But that doesn't mean there wasn't something of a major surprise in how the Wildcats got to "around .500" in the first year of the Joker Phillips era. The first couple of seasons following Woodson's departure, Kentucky relied heavily on their ground game as an experienced offensive line, talented rushers like Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke, and iffy quarterbacking made that the 'Cats best option. Thanks to Cobb's dynamism and versatility, the Wildcat frequently became the offense's most effective form of attack.

With Cobb and Locke still around and the inefficient Mike Hartline still under center, not many expected that plan to change coming into 2010. But a strong fall camp from Hartline -- which he needed simply to keep the job away from sophomore Morgan Newton -- led to a stunningly good season; the senior increased his yards per-attempt by nearly two full yards and improved his touchdown-to-interception ratio from 6-to-7 to an impressive 23-to-9. The end result? The second-leading passing offense in the SEC at 269 yards a game and the 31st-best team quarterbacking rating in the country.

Of course, Hartline didn't manage it alone. There was Cobb, for starters, who made multiple All-American teams as an all-purpose player but spent most of his time at wideout and wound up with 1,017 receiving yards. He was followed closely by 6'5" Chris Matthews, who blossomed after a ho-hum junior season with 925 yards of his own. Even Locke chipped in with 318 yards out of the backfield.

So the good news for Kentucky is that after years of relying on one aspect or the other, their offense finally gained some semblance of balance. The bad news is that all the key players who made that balance possible are gone: Hartline, Matthews, and Locke have all graduated, and Cobb elected to turn pro a year early.

What's left is, on paper, less-than-inspiring. Newton will take over at quarterback after completing just 58 percent of his 43 passes in 2010 without a touchdown; he threw 135 times in 2009 but completed just 55 percent of those for a meager 5.2 yards per-attempt. But Kentucky won't have many other options, with Phillips citing grayshirted true freshman Max Smith as Newton's only competition at the moment. (Smith and Newton are, in fact, the 'Cats only scholarship quarterbacks.)

Spring Practice Primers
At receiver, junior La'Rod King returns after snaring 36 balls for 478 yards a year ago. But the next most prolific returning wideout is senior Matt Roark, who caught just 12 receptions without a touchdown, and no other wideout caught more than three. Tight end Jordan Aumiller and whoever emerges at running back -- likely sophomore Raymond Sanders -- will no doubt contribute as well, but it's nonetheless hard to see Newton getting that much help out of his receiving corps.

That doesn't mean there's not hope, though. Phillips is the same coach who coaxed the massive year-to-year improvement out of Hartline; who's to say he can't do the same with the athletic Newton? And if Newton won't get that big of a boost from his receivers, he ought to get plenty of one from his running game, one led by an offensive line with four retunring starters including all-conference junior guard Larry Warford. Then there's Phillips himself, who's guided the Kentucky offense for years and has consistently produced quality results.

But this is likely his biggest challenge yet. Without a functional passing game, even this line likely wouldn't be able to generate a game-winning rushing attack all on its own, and certainly not without the likes of Cobb or Locke. The Wildcat defense should improve, but if Phillips can't use this spring to rebuild some measure of last year's aerial success, Kentucky's school-record bowl streak may not make it to 2012.


Posted on: February 1, 2011 2:15 pm
 

Kentucky's Mossakowski to transfer

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Here's a story that may temper your excitement or frustration with signing day tomorrow. It's important to remember that there are no sure things in college football. For instance, Ryan Mossakowski was a four-star recruit at quarterback out of Texas who chose to sign with Kentucky a few years ago. He then had to have surgery to repair the labrum in his throwing shoulder following high school, and redshirted his first season in Lexington.

Mossakowski then spent 2010 at third on the Kentucky depth chart behind Mike Hartline and Morgan Newton, and only saw time in mop-up duty this season, never getting the chance to throw a pass. Now, after coming to Kentucky with so much promise, Mossakowski has announced he'll be transferring from the school.

"This is something I've been thinking about for a while, even before the bowl game,"said Mossakowski. "I talked with the coaches and they said the job would be open in the spring and I'd have a chance to compete. I just had to make the decision that I thought was best for me. I really have to go somewhere where I know there's a 100 percent chance I'd get on the field.

"I have total respect for the coaching staff, and I'll still be good friends with all the players. I've really enjoyed it here. I just want to be somewhere where I know I'll get on the field."

Mossakowski says he's talked to his father and high school coach about some possible destinations, but he hasn't put together any kind of list.
Posted on: January 8, 2011 6:46 pm
Edited on: January 8, 2011 7:01 pm
 

Bowl Grades: BBVA Compass Bowl

Posted by Chip Patterson

Pittsburgh dedicates their 27-10 win to ex-coach Dave Wannstedt as the Panthers rolled over Kentucky.


PITTSBURGH

Offense: Pittsburgh used special teams play in order to build their lead, but it was a relentless rushing attack that protected it; keeping the Kentucky offense off the field and burning up clock. Running back Dion Lewis, likely playing his last game as a Panther, led the way with 22 carries for 105 yards and a touchdown. Ray Graham pitched in as well with 17 carries for 90 yards. Credit Pittsburgh's offensive line for winning the battle up front against Seattle's defensive line. GRADE: A-

Defense: Whoever does inherit Pittsburgh's defense is awfully lucky, because they showed great promise for the future against a usually potent Kentucky offense. The Wildcats usually average 33 points per game, but without suspended quarterback Mike Hartline, and against the Panther defense they could not turn production into points. The Panthers defense swarmed to the ball and kept close tabs on all-purpose threat Randall Cobb as Kentucky tried to move him around the field. Cobb was held to just 23 yards rushing and 62 yards receiving, and basically was a non-factor in the game. GRADE: B

Coaching: Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett deserves a lot of credit for preparing Pittsburgh for this game even with all the off-field distractions. The Panthers players dedicated the win to former coach Dave Wannstedt, and Wannstedt also is due some credit for this team's success. Hopefully the Panthers will be able to take this win and use it to jump-start the preparation for next season. GRADE: B+

KENTUCKY

Offense: The Wildcats offense desperately missed suspended quarterback Mike Hartline against the Panthers, falling well short of their average 33.0 points per game. Backup Morgan Newton made the most of his opportunity, complete 21 of 36 passes for 211 yards and did not throw an interception. Unfortunately, the offense was not able to turn their production into points, and the inability to convert on 4th and short ended up costing Kentucky one of their best opportunities to win the game. GRADE: D+

Defense: Kentucky's defense has been known to give up some big days on the ground, but the inability to stop the run ended up being the Wildcats demise on Saturday. When Kentucky really needed to shut down Dion Lewis and Ray Graham, they had no answer. The Wildcats also failed to create a turnover down the stretch, which allowed PIttsburgh to continue burning clock as Kentucky watched their chances at two straight bowl wins slip away. GRADE: F

Coaching: Kentucky's special teams woes ended up creating a deficit that was too large to overcome against the Panthers. With one blocked punt and one failed fake punt, the Wildcats' mistakes left a sour taste with Joker Phillips and the rest of the coaching staff. The loss drops Kentucky to 6-7, the first losing season for Kentucky since 2005. GRADE: C-

FINAL GRADE: The only thing that made this game seem mildly watchable was seeing an inspired Pittsburgh squad win one for Dave Wannstedt. For the most part, the game was pretty uninteresting as Kentucky looked outmatched and unprepared in most aspects of the game. With the storylines off the field overshadowing the action on the field, this wasn't the ideal game to kick off a big day of football for most of the nation. GRADE: D+
Posted on: January 7, 2011 1:09 pm
 

CBS Bowl Bonanza: BBVA Compass Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Basics: Pitt (7-5) vs. Kentucky (6-6), 12 p.m. EST, Jan. 8, Birmingham, Ala.

Why You Should Watch: It's your final chance to spend a Saturday afternoon watching college football. Isn't that reason enough? If it's not, well, frankly, a matchup between a unexciting Pitt squad of questionable motivation (following the ouster of Dave Wannstedt) and a .500 Kentucky team that slumped badly down the stretch probably won't get your pulse racing. But the Wildcats' receiver/returner/Wildcat (as in the formation) quarterback Randall Cobb is one of the most underrated and explosive players in the country, and there's also the chance that Pitt preseason All-American running back Dion Lewis could pick up where he left off in his late-season (as in, final game) breakout and go bananas again.

But mostly, as we said, it's the last-chance saloon for weekend college football. Drink up while you can.

Keys to Victory for Pitt: The first -- and probably most important one -- is simply for the Panthers to show up. Pitt has already endured one of the most disappointing seasons in the country, an insanely tumultuous offseason that's featured Wannstedt's firing, Mike Haywood's hiring, then Haywood's firing, and Wannstedt waffling until this week on whether he'd bother to come to Birmingham or not. Pitt's morale and focus probably wasn't great even before the coaching drama; though interim head coach Phil Bennett has head coaching experience and is as respected as anyone on staff, it's still anyone's guess what kind of mindset the Panthers will bring to their (admittedly lower-rent) bowl.

But if the Panthers are locked in, they've got the tools to make life very hard on the Wildcats. Offensively, Lewis appears to be back in form after his early-season struggles, receiver Jonathan Baldwin's size will present some serious matchup problems for the Kentucky corners, and the young (and often inconsistent) offensive line should benefit from the extra practice time. Defensively, though the Panthers will miss injured defensive end Jabaal Sheard, Bennett's charges finished a quiet ninth in the country in total defense, and should have little difficulty stopping a 'Cat passing attack minus starting suspended starting quarterback Mike Hartline. On paper, the Panthers ought to be the favorites.

But emotion regularly makes a hash of what "ought" to happen on paper in football, and what kind of emotion Pitt will play with is very much a question right now.

Keys to Victory for Kentucky: The Wildcat's first problem is obvious: Hartline's absence through suspension for a public intoxication arrest. That leaves sophomore Morgan Newton at the helm of the offense; while he hasn't played this season (only seven passes attempted), Newton's freshman season saw him complete 55.6 percent of his 135 passes for only 5.2 yards per attempt. He's likely to be a little sharper with another year under his belt and the extra bowl practice to prepare, but he'll also have to deal with a Pitt pass rush that's been one of the country's best the past couple of seasons (even without Sheard). Newton must play under control, and the Wildcat offensive line -- in a bit of good news for Kentucky, one that's allowed only 15 sacks all season, second-best in the SEC -- must give him time, or the Wildcat passing attack will be dead-on-arrival.

If Newton is on point and the line does give him time, the Wildcats have the weapons to put plenty of points on the board; Cobb, running back Derrick Locke, and 6'5" receiver Chris Matthews would all start for a lot of teams a lot higher-ranked than Kentucky. They may need them, since aside from revelatory first-team All-SEC linebacker Danny Trevathan (the conference's leader in tackles), few Wildcats stood out on defense this season either in rush defense -- where the 'Cats gave up 170 yards a game -- or pass defense, where the 'Cats ranked 81st by giving up 7.4 yards an attempt.

Of course, as unthreatening as Pitt's offense has been at times, the game promises to be tight and low-scoring regardless. Which is where Cobb comes in: one big special teams return or huge play out of the backfield could decide the game, and the Panthers don't appear to have a similar weapon.

The BBVA Compass Bowl is like: the small-town gas station off the Interstate that the sign says is your last opportunity to fill up for 73 miles or so. You stop because, hey, better get some gas. But maybe there's also a souvenir inside, a little Randall Cobb or Dion Lewis-shaped figurine, that you'll want to keep and remember during the long Saturday football-less road ahead.


Posted on: December 11, 2010 1:32 pm
 

Kentucky suspends Hartline for Compass Bowl

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Well, something tells me this isn't how Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline saw his collegiate career coming to an end, but he made his bed, and now he'll be lying in it instead of playing in a bowl game.  Hartline was arrested early Friday morning for disorderly conduct, public intoxication and failure to notify the department of transportation on an address change.  Now, a day later, his head coach announced that he'll be suspending Hartline -- a fifth year senior -- for Kentucky's appearance against Pitt in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

"Mike Hartline has had a good record here, conduct-wise, and I regret this," Joker Phillips told the media after practice on Saturday. "I regret that this happened, but it did. I really hate that it happened because of what he's done for us this year in leading this program to our fifth-straight bowl. He's done a great job at that, but we have clear expectations our players, how we want them to act, how we want them to behave."

Phillips also said that Hartline will be allowed to be with the team in Birmingham for the bowl game if he wants to go.

As for who will replace Hartline, who has started all 12 Kentucky games at quarterback this season, it looks like the job will go to sophomore Morgan Newton.  
 
 
 
 
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