Scouting the Cats: Patrick Towles named UK's starting QB

jsmith3@herald-leader.comAugust 18, 2014 

  • SEASON OPENER

    Tennessee-Martin at Kentucky

    When: Noon Saturday, Aug. 30

    TV: SEC Network

  • Scouting the Quarterbacks

    The main man: After a long, sometimes seemingly never-ending quarterback competition, sophomore Patrick Towles earned the starting QB title. The former Highlands star had to do major work in the offseason to fix his throwing motion and decision making, but he has coaches and commentators confident that he can guide the UK offense in the right direction.

    The supporting cast: No Kentucky starter has made it through a season as a starter since Andre Woodson did it in 2007, so the supporting players could be key again this season. No backup has been named, but Reese Phillips and Drew Barker were both so strong that they pushed the competition through camp. "Reese pushed the living daylights out of him and Drew pushed to where they couldn't name one," former UK quarterback Jared Lorenzen noted. Mark Stoops and Neal Brown both said the future is bright at that position and have faith in Phillips, Barker and Maxwell Smith as his arm strength continues to improve coming off shoulder surgery.

    Outlook: For all of the accolades and talk of dramatic off-season improvement for Towles, he still has just 40 collegiate throws to his name and will have a learning curve, especially once the Cats get into Southeastern Conference play. But coaches seem more confident in the players around the quarterback spot like the experienced running backs, the four returning offensive line starters as well as a more versatile group of wide receivers. The coaches have said they will give Towles plenty of room to maneuver through the challenges of his first season as a starter.

    JEN SMITH

It would've been easier to wave a white flag than to keep putting on the blue jersey and never playing.

After he lost not one, but two different quarterback competitions at Kentucky, it would've been understandable if Patrick Towles decided he was done.

"It would've been so easy for him to say, 'Done. To heck with this. I redshirted last year. I fought and lost,'" former Cats quarterback Jared Lorenzen said. "I think human instinct would've been to quit."

But Towles didn't follow that instinct.

Instead, the Mr. Football from Highlands opted to dig in and do more.

Because of that and his improvements on the field, he was named UK's starting quarterback on Monday morning over Reese Phillips, Drew Barker and Maxwell Smith.

Mark Stoops announced the decision via Twitter before Kentucky conducted its final open practice of fall camp. A backup quarterback has not been named yet.

"I hope now that he has the keys that he can drive the bus and be the leader that we need him to be," Stoops said of Towles.

The head coach mentioned Towles' attempts to get better, working with a quarterback guru during the off-season to fix what coaches have described as a dip in his throw that slowed his release.

Towles worked on his footwork and decision making. He spent hours trying to make himself a viable option for the UK coaches this time around.

"I like the fact that he just went to work to get better," Stoops said on Monday. "I think that sends a good message to the rest of the team."

And it says something about Towles, the 6-foot-5, 238-pounder who led Highlands to three state championships and a 33-1 record as a starter.

"The easiest thing to do in our society today is, 'It's everybody else's fault,'" offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "When you don't get what you want, when you don't get instant gratification, well who's fault is it? It can't be mine."

Towles took a little bit of time to look in the mirror, but eventually he did and realized he could do more.

"The minute you get complacent you lose," Towles said on Media Day. He was not made available on Monday following the announcement. "I got complacent and I lost (the QB job). I'm not going to get complacent again."

Towles got more serious about football, said Lorenzen, who has known the new UK starter since he was the third-string freshman quarterback at Highlands.

"He grew up," Lorenzen said. "He doesn't have mom and dad to lean back on now. And that was something he needed to do, and he's done it and it shows. He carries himself differently. He's not the same little Patrick that everybody knows now. He's a grown man."

But it wasn't just that he sought outside help to improve or spent countless hours in front of the quarterback chute.

"He won the job and I have a lot of confidence in him," Stoops said. "I really like the way he went about his work for the past year."

His teammates are happy to have the competition over with and to start building game plans with a quarterback in place.

Even while fighting for his starting job, Towles was a strong leader, defensive end Bud Dupree said.

"He's a good vocal guy at quarterback," the defensive leader said. "He lets the players know their mistakes, as well as just making plays when they need to be made. So I think it's a good decision."

Former UK great and television analyst Tim Couch said the Cats' offense is "perfect" for Towles, who had a couple of designed run plays in the open practice on Monday.

"He's sneaky fast, too," Stoops said of Towles, who rushed for 1,718 yards and 38 touchdowns at Highlands. "He's maybe not as fleet of foot as some other guys, but in the open field he's really got some pretty good speed. He's a big guy. He's strong. And he can make all the throws."

With less than two weeks to go before the season opener against Tennessee-Martin, it's important that Kentucky's offense has a direction and a leader, Couch said.

"You can start building game plans around that guy," Couch said. "The team can understand that this is going to be our guy going forward. Everyone can move on and put all of the questions behind them and get ready for the season."

Notes, updates

At the final open practice of fall camp, the talk was about Towles and quarterbacks, but it was hard to miss Kentucky star defensive end Bud Dupree on the sidelines without pads on Monday morning.

Both Stoops and the UK senior said it's "nothing serious" keeping him from practicing.

"Bud will be fine; Bud will be fine," Stoops said of the Cats' leading returning tackler. "He's got an issue, but he'll be fine."

Several other players were not in full pads on Monday, including defensive back Nate Willis, defensive tackle Regie Meant, linebacker Josh Forrest, running back Jojo Kemp and offensive lineman Josh Krok (boot on left foot).

Wide receiver Javess Blue was back in pads and participating in some drills, but he was not in for 11-on-11 sessions.

Several players were in red (no contact) jerseys on Monday, including wide receivers Ryan Timmons and Dorian Baker as well as Stanley Williams.

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown reiterated what he said after Saturday's scrimmage, that the offense still hasn't had its full complement of weapons this pre-season.

"The No. 1 thing we have to do on offense is get healthy," Brown said. "You all watched practice today, so we're not at full staff just yet. But we're getting closer."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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