LEXINGTON — Morgan Newton didn’t mince words about his feelings.
“You feel like you let a lot of people down. You let the senior class down. There was a great turnout of UK fans, and you feel like you let them down. It’s just tough to lose like that,” said the Kentucky freshman quarterback after Saturday’s 30-24 overtime loss to Tennessee.
“There are a lot of guys down, especially the senior. I can tell you every senior fought to build this program. They affected me as a person and made me better, but I let them down.”
Newton was 10-for-22 passing for only 69 yards in the loss to Tennessee that cost UK a chance to finish second in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division to one of six SEC teams with 7-5 records vying for bowl berths.
He also lost a fumble and was stopped on a third-down run in the final minute that forced UK to settle for a field goal to tie the game rather than a touchdown that would have ended a 24-game losing streak to the Vols.
“They had a great defense, but I think tonight I played like a freshman and hurt my team,” Newton said. “I made key mistakes. I fumbled. I overthrew receivers.
“I cannot blame anybody but myself for the mistakes I made out there. I did not understand what the players were talking about when it came to this game. I didn’t get what playing Tennessee was like until the game started.”
Newton part of being a team’s quarterback is accepting responsibility for losses like this one and the 31-24 loss to Mississippi State when the Cats couldn’t score late to tie the game.
“I have to look at myself first. There were a lot of things I could have done to won this game,” he said. “That rollout (on third down), I’ve got to get the first down or get in the end zone.
“Anytime yo lose at home, or lose period, it is tough. There is no doubt this game was different from any other game we played all year because of what it means to players and fans. You hear about it all week. The Cat Walk (before the game) was great. This is a special game and I just didn’t play very well and make enough plays to help my team win.”
Newton was so shaken after the game that he said he couldn’t “look at the seniors” or remember what defensive tackle Corey Peters said to him as they walked off the field together.
“This is tough on me. I am supposed to be the team leader and I let them down,” Newton said. “We were not able to seize a huge opportunity in front of us and it was my fault.”
He said not to blame running back Derrick Locke for not sustaining his block long enough on the crucial third down run even though Joker Phillips, UK’s head coach of the offense, said Locke didn’t execute the block as he should have.
“In hindsight, I would love to have that play over to see what more I could have done,” Newton said. “The coaches made the call and had faith in me to get the job done. That’s my fault for not doing it.”
Phillips said he admired Cobb for being so hard on himself, but didn’t want him to feel like it was his fault UK lost.
“I like the fact he is hard on himself, but I don’t want him to beat himself up,” Phillips said. “Our kids all played hard. He’s 18 and playing in his sixth college game. He gave his all. He’s done all we have asked of him. He’s matured and improved. He’s going to be fine.”
Randall Cobb, UK’s most versatile playmaker, consoled Newton after the Mississippi State loss. He planned to do the same thing again, especially since he also lost a fumble and couldn’t get the ball in the end zone when he had chances on the final drive in regulation.
“Morgan has to refocus and get ready to play in a bowl game now. It was a bad loss for all of us, but he has to move on and not look back,” Cobb said.
For Newton, that’s not easy to do.
“I did not come here to place blame on anybody else,” Newton said. “I look at myself and know there are a lot of things I could have done to win this game. That’s why there’s no way for me not to blame myself for the loss.”