Sometimes the most important lesson you can learn in college is how little you really know.
It's been that way for Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles, who has gone from high school phenom and the state's Mr. Football to a newbie trying to not fumble his way through a brand-new offense.
It doesn't help Towles that he's learning a season's worth of knowledge in a short amount of time, after pulling off his redshirt and attempting to don a red cape to help the Cats' struggling offense.
"He's only had six real practices with the offense," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders gently reminded the media and Towles this week as UK prepped for Vanderbilt on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.
That first week against Mississippi State, Towles showed what a roller-coaster ride it can be for a true freshman quarterback playing in the Southeastern Conference.
On his first collegiate drive, he went an impressive 5-for-5 for 71 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown pass to La'Rod King. On his second drive, he held the ball too long and was sacked (and injured) by a Bulldogs defensive lineman.
After two weeks off to heal the bum ankle, Towles came back in against Missouri last week and completed just one of his four pass attempts for 2 yards. To end the third quarter, he was sacked and fumbled.
He learned that he has a lot to learn.
"The complexity of the defenses gets you sometimes; it got me a couple of times on Saturday," Towles said this week.
As the quarterback made his way to the Kentucky sideline, Sanders made sure he had learned something.
"He kind of forgot everything he knew and he reverted back to what he's always done," the offensive coordinator said. "That was the big thing I told him on the sideline: If you're going to play quarterback in college, you've got to play like a college quarterback. You can't do it like you did in high school; it's not going to work."
So Towles spent a lot of time this week with Sanders.
"We've watched a ton of film and Coach Sanders has done a really, really good job of breaking everything down for me, showing me really how Vanderbilt is doing things so we can be effective on Saturday," Towles said.
Vanderbilt's defense is its own type of crash course.
The Commodores (4-4, 2-3 SEC) are fifth in the nation in passing defense, allowing just 151 yards a game through the air. They have given up only four passing touchdowns all season.
Coach Joker Phillips said the Vanderbilt defense, which is allowing only 19.2 points a game, brings "blitzes from everywhere.
"Probably the best team we've seen as far as disguising blitzes," he explained. "You don't see that until the ball's getting into your hands, so we've got to be able to react to it as quickly as you possibly can."
Towles has watched enough of Vanderbilt this week to know that he and fellow true freshman quarterback Jalen Whitlow will have to elevate their games.
"Vanderbilt does a phenomenal job with their veteran secondary of really disguising everything until the snap," he said. "You've just got to keep your eyes on them long enough so you know what they're doing."
The former Highlands standout said he had a bit of tunnel vision against Missouri last week, which doomed him early.
"In high school, protections were managed by my offensive line and my coaches called the play and I just executed the play," Towles said. "But here, it's a lot more responsibility and — I don't want to say stress — but things you have to do personally to get the play going, to manage protections and things like that."
He hopes the extra week of practice and extra time spent with Sanders will mean a different result for him and for Kentucky (1-8, 0-6) this weekend as the Cats try to end their seven-game skid.
"I'm not a guy who wants to make excuses, but the extra practice time is extremely beneficial, so any minute, every second that I can get in here" will help, he said.
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241Twitter: @jenheraldleaderBlog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.