Kentucky wants new QB Towles in comfort zone Saturday

jsmith3@herald-leader.comAugust 28, 2014 

  • SEASON OPENER

    Tennessee-Martin at Kentucky

    When: Noon Saturday

    TV: SEC Network

As Patrick Towles was relearning how to be a quarterback this offseason, his private coach told him how difficult it was going to be to change the way he throws, the way he grips the ball, the way he moves his feet.

"I told him, 'This is going to be like learning how to breathe again,'" recalled Donny Walker, Towles' quarterback tutor.

The Kentucky quarterback might need a reminder about how to do that whole breathing thing as he prepares for his first start in a Kentucky uniform.

"It's hard, but I'm excited," Towles said this week as Kentucky prepared for its season opener against Tennessee-Martin.

"You can't be all excited and your mind going everywhere, 25 different places during practice or else you're not going to get anything productive done."

Coaches have done what they could to make Towles more comfortable in the week leading up to him taking over the full-time job that he's tried out for twice and didn't get.

The goal has been to keep things as normal as possible for Towles, Coach Mark Stoops said.

"He doesn't need to put any more undue pressure on himself," the head coach said. "I expect that he will be a little bit antsy. ... But he's just got to calm down and stay within himself and operate the offense."

Neal Brown, who played at Kentucky as a native of Kentucky, understands the weight of that first start, how your heart thumps louder in your ears when you go out on the field.

"It's understood that he's going to be nervous," Brown said when asked how he would help his quarterback through it. "That's just part of it. You just go out and play through it. You try to talk to him a little bit."

Brown has kept in mind Towles' potential nerves and his offense's overall youth as he's planned for the Skyhawks.

"You take that into the equation your opening few plays," the offensive coordinator said. "You know he's going to be juiced up."

Former UK quarterback Jared Lorenzen, who coached Towles for a time at Highlands High School, recalled seeing the younger quarterback's first start for the Bluebirds, before Towles started putting up record-altering numbers.

Towles was in against powerhouse St. Xavier of Louisville.

"It was hand the ball off, hand the ball, hand the ball, hand the ball," Lorenzen recalled. "And it was really just guard against so he didn't mess up."

The plan Saturday is to keep things simple — but not quite that simple — although Kentucky does have some options at running back this season that could help Towles get more comfortable more quickly.

Brown and Towles met Tuesday to discuss the plays for Saturday. "I said, 'Hey, look up here on my board. This is our game plan. What don't you like?'" the coach said.

If there were things Towles wasn't a big fan of or didn't feel 100 percent confident about, Brown pulled them off the board.

"He's not going to call anything that we're not comfortable with," Towles said. "It's the stuff that we like, the stuff that we're comfortable with. The stuff we've been successful with during the week is the stuff we're going to run on Saturday."

A few scores will help the new Cats quarterback, who has thrown exactly 40 passes during his UK career, get more comfy.

"He's just got to calm down and stay within himself and operate the offense," Stoops said. "And that's where ... it is important to get off on a fast start and give him some things that he can manage early until he gets settled in."

Some players play music to get pumped up before the game.

Not Towles. No music on Saturday.

Just some deep breathing and visualizing, "just getting your mind right.

"I'm kind of just relaxed and even-keeled because the more you get amped up before a game, for me at least, the harder it is to think clearly," he said. "So I try to stay relaxed."

That might be more difficult Saturday morning.

And maybe for a few minutes, he will have to remind himself how to breathe again.

Change in practice plan

Kentucky has altered its game preparation schedule for this season.

The Cats go through a light practice on Thursdays now and then a faster, full practice on Fridays.

"There's plenty of other schools who have done this," Stoops explained. "So we did a little study in the offseason and looked at it, and it's just another part of the plan to play faster.

"Just a little bit of rest and recovery and then not go so long without having the speed of the game."

Stoops said other programs, specifically he mentioned Oregon and now the Philadelphia Eagles, have done it and had success.

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

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