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On a gloomy day in Lexington, the sun came out for just a moment as the UK football team took the field for the first time since January, for its annual Blue vs. White intrasquad scrimmage.
In a new format, the starters on both offense and defense suited up for the White team. The reserves made up the Blue team, and were spotted a 14-0 lead to start the game. Blue held on to defeat White by a final score of 31-28 courtesy of a Joe Mansour 38-yard field goal with under a minute to play.
The game was quarterback Morgan Newton’s first opportunity to command the first team offense in front of Big Blue Nation, which brought a crowd of approximately 4,000 fans to Commonwealth Stadium for the game. Newton completed 23-44 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns on the afternoon with just one interception.
“I threw it all right, sometimes,” Newton said. “I could have made some better throws sometimes, but other than that guys were in the right place; we just need to make some plays. But other than that it was pretty encouraging.”
Dropped passes plagued UK’s offense all afternoon, for both the Blue and White teams. Depending on how a dropped pass is scored, the two teams accounted for around 10 drops for the game. Both Newton and backup quarterback Maxwell Smith, who led the Blue team in the game, struggled with open receivers dropping passes.
“They were tough catches, but big-time (Southeastern Conference) receivers need to make those plays,” wide receiver E.J. Fields said. “You are going to get hit when you catch the ball, you are going to have to make diving catches, you just have to make those plays.”
Fields opened the game with an acrobatic, one-handed catch over a defender deep down the field, and followed it by breaking two tackles and scoring the game’s first touchdown for the Blue team. Fields also suited up for the White team, catching a touchdown from Newton in the fourth quarter. For the game, Fields had three catches for 61 yards and the two scores between both teams. Brian Adams skipped UK’s baseball game with Arkansas to take part in the scrimmage, and led all receivers with seven catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns of his own, all for Newton and the White team.
On the ground, Raymond Sanders and Jonathan George split time in the backfield for the White team behind a starting offensive line with four returning starters from last year’s team. For the Blue team, it was CoShik Williams who received most of the carries behind a line that provided him with few holes and provided Smith little time in the pocket.
“(The offensive line) just have to continue to develop, and continue to get better and develop some depth behind us,” guard Stuart Hines said. “Those guys are working their butts off, too, and they just have to continue to keep working, keep their heads up and keep confidence in themselves.”
The scrimmage was also the first time the defense was able to display co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter’s new defensive schemes for fans in full-speed game action. The first team defense allowed only 94 total yards of offense to the second team offense in Blue, while the second team defense allowed 354 yards of offense to the starters in White. Overall, the defense looked strong on some plays, flawed on others, and confused on some as well.
“I felt like the defense came together today,” linebacker Ronnie Sneed said. “We put together the pieces of the puzzle and I felt like overall we did pretty good. The guys got after it, and we gave the offense a rough time I felt like.”
“We’ve got a lot of leaders on defense,” linebacker and reigning SEC tackles champion Danny Trevathan said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who aren’t going to let this team down on defense.”
Trevathan led the White team with five tackles, including one tackle for loss. Linebacker Avery Williamson led the Blue team with 10 tackles and a “sack” (players could not actually contact the quarterbacks so assumed sacks were up to the referee’s discretion) of Newton. Justin Henderson recorded seven tackles of his own and two sacks, including a sack of Newton on fourth down, which ended the game.
At the end, the backups had defeated the starters by three, but considering they had been spotted 14 points before the players even took the field, the starters actually won by 11.
“That shows the depth of the team; it shows the versatility of the team,” Trevathan said. “We can fit guys wherever … and if someone was to get hurt they could fill in.”
UK head football coach Joker Phillips was pleased with his teams’ performances in the scrimmage. When Sept. 1 arrives and the Cats open their 2011 season in Nashville against Western Kentucky, Phillips thinks he thought UK could stay in the title race for a long time.
“I expect us to be in the title race for longer than we’ve been,” Phillips said. “Why not us? And I truly believe that … I might get blasted for saying that, but why not us? But our players truly have to believe that.”
The annual spring scrimmage concluded UK’s spring practice season.