LEXINGTON, Ky. – After a tight competition during spring practice and the first two weeks of preseason workouts, senior Mike Hartline has been named the Kentucky starting quarterback, Coach Joker Phillips announced after practice Monday afternoon.
Hartline got the starting nod while in contention with sophomore Morgan Newton and redshirt freshman Ryan Mossakowski. Hartline is the most experienced candidate, with 14 starting assignments over the last two years, with the Wildcats posting an 8-6 record in those games. The Wildcats were 5-3 in games started by Newton, who opened the last eight games of the 2009 season after Hartline was sidelined by a knee injury.
“We feel that we have three quarterbacks that we can win with in this league,” Phillips said. “We feel comfortable with all three of them and that is a good problem to have. Right now, we feel that Mike Hartline gives us the best chance to win. He has been more efficient and is playing faster than the other two. At this point, he gives us the best chance to win.”
Coach Phillips said that he and offensive coordinator Randy Sanders made the decision Monday and felt it was the right time to announce it. Phillips said Sanders had “lots” of input on the decision.
“Randy has been through it a couple times at the other place that he was at (while coaching at Tennessee) and therefore he had a lot of input in this decision,” Phillips said.
Phillips said that Hartline had kept a slight lead over the younger Newton and Mossakowski with his consistent, efficient play and experience. In the end, Phillips said the senior “just won the job.”
“If we would have made this (decision) in the spring or when we first started fall camp, I don’t think that it would have been fair to those guys that are a little bit younger,” Phillips said. “We had to give those guys a chance to compete. At this point in time we just feel that Mike gives us the best chance to win. He (Hartline) is the guy who won the job … He (Hartline) is our guy.”
Hartline started the first five games for UK last season before incurring a knee injury in the South Carolina game. Hartline came back from the injury in time to take a few snaps during the Vanderbilt game but did not see any action after that.
“You try as best as you can in the fall to just work and hope everything else pays off,” Hartline said. “I am just excited to get going and look at some Louisville tape and just getting pumped up for the season.”
In his 21 career games at UK, Hartline has completed 56.7 percent of his passes for 2,502 yards and 15 touchdowns. Hartline started nine games in 2008, throwing for 1,666 yards and nine touchdowns.
Phillips said that both Newton and Mossakowski took the announcement as best as they possibly could at that point in time, but he told both to keep battling hard and competing.
“None of them tore up my office or anything (laughter from media), but I am sure that it hurt the other two (Mossakowski and Newton) also a little bit,” Phillips said. “If it didn’t, then we got the wrong two. I think that it did hurt them a little bit but I think those two are smart enough and understand this game enough that they are going to roll their sleeves up and know that they are a snap (away from playing). It could be before the game on Sept. 4, anything can happen.”
Phillips said that he expects all three quarterbacks to continue to compete, saying he did not want anyone to relax or get complacent.
UK returns to practice Tuesday before taking a day off Wednesday for the first day of classes.