Phillips sticking with Newton at quarterback

Despite Morgan Newton's tremendously rough start to the 2011 season, Kentucky coach Joker Phillips plans to stick with the junior quarterback this week at South Carolina.

Newton's quarterback efficiency sits at a hideous 97.8, he's completing 50 percent of his passes and has 647 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions.

Still, Newton is still in charge of running the Wildcats' offense.

"Morgan will continue to get the snaps," Phillips said.

Newton has looked nothing like the freshman that stepped on the field in 2009 and was an SEC All-Freshman selection by the league's coaches for completing 55.6 percent of his passes for 706 yards and six touchdowns after filling in for Mike Hartline halfway through the season.

Even with a handful of playmakers missing from Kentucky's offense, the feeling was Newton would be able to hold his own for the most part and he wouldn't be the reason for the Wildcats' offensive struggles.

Well, as Kentucky sits with a 2-3 record, its offense ranks last in the SEC in scoring (15 points per game), total offense (255.6) and is 11th in passing (139.4). Even though Newton can't catch his own passes or block for both him and his running backs, more blame has been placed on his shoulders.

Kentucky coaches certainly made a statement when they benched Newton for true freshman Maxwell Smith late against LSU. Smith didn't fare much better, passing for just 9 yards on 1-of-5 passing.

"We think that the experience that Max did get will give us an opportunity to feel a little more comfortable about him, but it was a tough situation for him," Phillips said. "He did some good, but didn't do anything to spark us at that time."

Together, both quarterbacks sputtered through to pass for 66 yards on 7-of-25 passing against the Tigers. Newton returned to the game and threw Kentucky's only touchdown of the game.

Newton has received a lot of criticism this year -- some of it deserved -- but Phillips made it clear that this team needs other parts to step up in order to get this offense back on track. The receivers have been almost nonexistent, Phillips said the running backs are "adequate" but need to improve and the offensive line has dealt with injuries.

The Wildcats are also without last year's playmakers in Hartline (3,178 yards and 23 touchdowns), receivers Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews (145 combined catches for 1,942 yards and 16 touchdowns) and running back Derrick Locke (887 yards and 10 touchdowns).

Kentucky would love to have just some of that kind of production at this point.

It was easier to have receiving threats like Cobb and Matthews out there to sling the ball to. Handing the ball off to Locke and even Cobb made this offense go as well last year.

Losing those elements has really made things an uphill battle for Kentucky's offense.

"It's been a lot tougher than we thought," Phillips said.