Mark Story: Towles shows promise, then goes down

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistOctober 6, 2012 

  • Tennessee at Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30

    TV: ESPNU

    Records: Kentucky 2-9 (0-7 SEC); Tennessee 4-7 (1-6)

In a Kentucky football season that has been mostly horror show, Patrick Towles supplied a brief moment of fairy tale.

Playing for the first time in the season's sixth game, the ex-Fort Thomas Highlands star quarterback and reigning Kentucky Mr. Football ran onto the C.M. Newton Field for the final drive of the first quarter of Kentucky's game with Mississippi State.

The smallish crowd (generously announced at 49,498) in Commonwealth Stadium roared so loudly that even Towles noticed.

"Yes sir," he said afterwards, smiling, "it was nice to get that kind of welcome."

Facing the defense of the No. 20 team in the country, the kid whose Twitter handle is @patty_ice14 was Popsicle cool.

With a 3rd-and-11 on his first college drive, Towles connected with La'Rod King for 14 yards. On the first play of period two, Towles hit Raymond Sanders with a short throw for 7 yards. Another play later, he found Demarco Robinson for 9 more. Really settling in, Towles rolled out on 3rd-and-1 at the Mississippi State 44 and found tight end Ronnie Shields for 9 yards.

On 2nd-and-7 from the Bulldogs 32, Towles stood strong in the pocket against the Mississippi State rush, then unleashed a bomb toward King in the MSU end zone just before getting plastered.

Milliseconds later, Tom Leach was proclaiming "TOUCHDOWN, KENTUCKY!"

Patrick Towles, home-state hero, had ended his first college drive 5-of-5 passing for 71 yards and a touchdown.

"I loved it, I loved every bit of it," Towles said later. "It's what you dream about growing up. For it actually coming to fruition, it was awesome."

Yet having teased The Long-Suffering Kentucky Football Fans with a bit of Hollywood, the pigskin gods then put a knife in their collective back.

After his stirring first drive, Towles did not complete another pass. The 6-foot-5, 242-pound freshmen spent the second half standing on the sidelines on crutches with a sprained right ankle.

Mississippi State (5-0, 2-0) hung yet another defeat on Kentucky (1-5, 0-3) Saturday, whipping the Wildcats 27-14 and making Dan Mullen 4-0 as State head man against UK.

Kentucky fans have craved a chance to see Towles directing the UK offense pretty much from the moment he committed to the Cats in the summer of 2011.

Against MSU, Towles and fellow UK true freshman Jalen Whitlow were expected to share the UK QB duties after regular starter Maxwell Smith suffered what is likely to be a season-ending ankle injury last week against South Carolina.

Before Smith's injury, Kentucky was trying to redshirt Towles, a 4-star recruit, three-time state championship QB and the grandson of Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Jim Bunning.

With Smith sidelined, the redshirt came off Towles and a dispirited fan base got to see the QB it wanted.

Things started so well.

The touchdown Towles threw to King came on a play when the young QB got buried by a MSU rusher.

"He stood in there on the touchdown pass and took one in the lips," Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips said afterwards. "That's what a big-time quarterback should do."

Yet after his TD toss, Towles threw only one more pass (it was incomplete).

On the first play of his third drive, Towles held the ball too long and wound up wrapped in both arms of Mississippi State defensive end Denico Autry. Towles tried to break free, but the 6-5, 255-pound Autry ripped him to the ground — and Towles right ankle turned the wrong way beneath the body weight of both players.

"I had told him all week, if he didn't make quick decisions and get the ball out of his hand, he might break his leg," said Randy Sanders, the Kentucky offensive coordinator.

This was no broken leg, but if it is a high ankle sprain, Towles true freshman season could be over almost as soon as it started.

If he is not able to return in 2012, Kentucky could apply for a medical redshirt for Towles (a team's sixth game is the deadline for such applications).

Having waited half a season to play, Towles definitely does not want his injury to be serious enough to earn a medical redshirt.

"I want to get back on the field and play," he said.

As for Saturday, yes, this is a Kentucky football season in which Murphy's Law seems fully in control. Yet it still seemed almost cruel that the kid called Patty Ice got a Hollywood beginning to his first game but such a crummy ending.

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

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