Patrick Towles takes the next step in his progression — more on that word later — on Saturday night when Kentucky's young quarterback makes his first SEC road start at, yikes, The Swamp.
This is the part where we try to write something clever like: Kentucky needs Towles to be a rock in a hard place.
"We're excited. We're hungry," the redshirt sophomore said after Tuesday's practice. "It's our first big test, our first real test this year. This is why you sign up to come to Kentucky to play these kind of teams in these kind of atmospheres."
For Kentucky, the Swamp atmosphere has been a bit, well, smothering. Overall, the Cats haven't beaten the Gators since 1986. They haven't beaten the Gators in Gainesville since 1979.
Tim Couch's first collegiate start came at The Swamp in 1996. A true freshman thrown to the wolves in one of the more ridiculous decisions in Kentucky football history — that's saying something — things did not go well. Florida rolled 65-0.
Luckily, Couch survived and went on to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.
Towles, the former Highlands star, said he has talked to Jared Lorenzen, another former Highlands star who went on to become Kentucky's starting quarterback, about how to survive the sights and sounds of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
"Jared said he used to get seasick when (the fans) started swaying back and forth," Towles said. "I don't know if that's what he ate before the game or . . . "
Actually, this isn't Towles first Swamp ride. He was there two years ago as a true freshman to watch the bizarre scenario in which expected starting quarterback Maxwell Smith was scratched during pre-game warm-ups because of a sore shoulder. Replacement Morgan Newton never had a chance. Florida rolled 38-0.
Here's the thing about Towles: he's not one to back down. The current staff wasn't sure what to make of the former prep star's self-confidence when they arrived. Was it some sort of false bravado? It wasn't. Towles kept the faith, worked on his mechanics, and stubbornly won the starting job this fall.
In the win last Saturday, just when you thought Towles had carried the football enough for one afternoon, the 6-foot-5, 238-pounder lowered his shoulder and tried to blast past a Bobcat tackler one more time.
On the one hand, you don't want your quarterback exposed that many times in the SEC. On the other there is something spine-tingling about seeing a quarterback willing to not just take a hit, but deliver one, as well.
"It's exciting for the fans to see an Air Raid quarterback not just throw it across the field, but not be afraid to take some hits," said freshman wide receiver Blake Bone.
"As a lineman, you just like seeing that in general," said offensive line coach John Schlarman. "When your quarterback is taking some shots and never complains and gets up and plays the next snap, he immediately earns the respect of the O-linemen."
For a quarterback, brawn is nice, brains are better. The real next step in Towles' progression is for the quarterback to go through his progressions when reading defenses.
Stoops points to the second play in the Ohio game when Towles patiently waited for Ryan Timmons to come open before hitting the sophomore for a 20-yard completion.
Brown points to a second-quarter sack Towles took on a third-and-goal at the four — UK subsequently missed a 28-yard field goal — when the quarterback didn't follow his progression.
"Really the third guy in his progression was open for a touchdown," Brown said.
"There are some things I did well," Towles said Tuesday. "And there are some things I can fix."
Earlier in the week, messing on Twitter with a friend who is a connoisseur of UK tattoos, Towles said if the Cats win Saturday night, the quarterback would get one of his own.
On Tuesday, the quarterback said he was only joking.
"There will be no ink on my body regardless of the outcome of the game on Saturday."
Still, Saturday night at The Swamp, Patrick Towles has a chance to make a mark.