Mark Story: Kentucky's Towles a jolt of hope best saved for later

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistAugust 9, 2012 

  • Records of UK starters

    Starting with Tim Couch, the records of UK quarterbacks in games they started:

    Player Years Starts

    Tim Couch1996-98 25Record: 12-13 (6-12 SEC, 0-1 bowls)

    Dusty Bonner1999 12Record: 6-6 (4-4 SEC, 0-1 bowls)

    Jared Lorenzen2000-03 41Record: 14-27 (5-23 SEC, 0-0 bowls)

    Shane Boyd2001, 2004 15Record: 3-12 (1-10 SEC, 0-0 bowls)

    Andre Woodson2004-07 38Record: 19-19 (9-16 SEC, 2-0 bowls)

    Mike Hartline2008-10 26Record: 14-12 (3-12 SEC, 1-0 bowls)

    Morgan Newton2009-11 17Record: 8-9 (3-6 SEC, 0-2 bowls)

    Maxwell Smith2011 3Record: 1-2 (1-2 SEC, 0-0 bowls)

    Matt Roark2011 1Record: 1-0 (1-0 SEC, 0-0)

    Mark Story

As a high school senior, Patrick Towles' touchdown-to-interception ratio was ludicrous. Last season at Fort Thomas Highlands, the Kentucky Wildcats freshman quarterback threw for 42 TDs with one solitary i-n-t.

So, being a card-carrying member of the press, my question for Towles at UK Media Day last week was what in the h-e-double-hockey sticks happened on that pick?

"It was a quick pass out and I underthrew it, and (the defender) cut it off," Towles said. "It was just a terrible decision, now that I think about it, definitely my fault."

Pause.

"But it was my only one. And I did tackle the guy," Towles said with a grin.

In a Kentucky football pre-season notable so far for stories about (many) tickets not being sold, it seems the only genuine buzz surrounds the 6-foot-5, 242-pound Towles.

For a fan base in need of a massive injection of hope, Towles — Kentucky's reigning high school Mr. Football — seems a one-man jolt of positive energy.

All of which puts Joker Phillips in a bit of a pickle.

History says it is almost certainly the best thing both for Towles and the UK football program if the true freshman quarterback never takes the field this season.

Yet in a season when Phillips and his coaching staff may be fighting for their jobs, the pressure to play the home-state hero will be intense.

Dropping a true freshman quarterback into Southeastern Conference football is sort of like having a 15-year-old take driver's education on the Dan Ryan Expressway (think Chicago traffic) at rush hour.

Still, showing the competitive nature one would expect of the grandson of Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Jim Bunning, Towles wants to play in 2012.

"Yes sir," he said, smiling, when asked directly. "I came here to play."

A basic equation explains why it will likely be better for Kentucky football if Towles redshirts this season: With quarterbacks, it is almost always better to trade a true freshman year for a fifth-year senior season.

In his fifth-year senior season at UK, Andre Woodson threw for 3,709 yards and 40 touchdowns. In his fifth-year senior season, Mike Hartline threw for 3,178 yards and completed 66.2 percent of his passes.

Neither would have enjoyed his best season at Kentucky had he not been redshirted as a freshman.

Conversely, current UK senior quarterback Morgan Newton was pressed into service as a true freshman with seven games left in the 2009 season after Hartline was injured.

UK actually won five of his first six starts. Yet that had a whole lot more to do with the ability of Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke to make big plays in the running game than it did the young quarterback — who threw for more than 100 yards only three times in eight true-freshmen starts.

To this point, Newton has not had the success at Kentucky that many expected when he signed with the Cats as a four-star recruit.

However, if he were to "figure things out" in his fourth year in the Kentucky program — which Woodson did in 2006 and Hartline seemed to be doing in 2009 before he was knocked out for the season at South Carolina — Newton would have traded a possible fifth season for a first year in which he clearly was not ready to play.

UK's other veteran quarterback, Maxwell Smith, started three games last season as a true freshman after Newton was injured against Mississippi State. Smith, however, had grayshirted the season before and gone through a spring practice at Kentucky prior to playing.

"Being a freshman, it is difficult to play quarterback," Smith said. "I understand why they don't always play freshmen and give you a redshirt year."

For my two cents, I think Smith will ultimately win the Kentucky starting job. Newton would then be an experienced backup. Which means Kentucky should be able to redshirt both Towles and fellow freshman QB Jalen Whitlow if it chooses.

Yet what makes UK's quarterback situation complex in 2012 is that the Kentucky coaching staff, fighting for short-term survival, may not feel it can make a long-term decision.

So while history suggests it will be in the long-term interest of UK football for Towles NOT to play, if the Cats start slowly in 2012 will Phillips and company be inclined to stand up to the public pressure to play him?

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service