Football

John Clay: Kentucky's Patrick Towles earns game ball, redemption

Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Patrick Towles (14) scrambled as the University of Kentucky played the University of Missouri in Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, September 26, 2015. This is second quarter college football action. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff
Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Patrick Towles (14) scrambled as the University of Kentucky played the University of Missouri in Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, September 26, 2015. This is second quarter college football action. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff Herald-Leader

A week ago, Patrick Towles was the one they wanted benched. He was the quarterback who completed just eight of 24 passes. He was the quarterback who was sacked six times. He was the one, so the critics said, who cost Kentucky a chance to beat Florida.

Saturday night, he was the one they could have lifted on their shoulders. Saturday night, Patrick Towles was the hero.

"I was telling the team I'm pretty stingy with game balls but I think he deserved one tonight," UK head coach Mark Stoops said afterward. "He made some plays with his feet and made some plays down the stretch."

The junior from Highlands hit on 22 of 27 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns. He ran for Kentucky's other score, its first. On a night when the Cats showed tremendous grit to beat 25th-ranked Missouri 21-13, Towles showed the most grit of all.

And not just for what he did on the field Saturday night, but for what he did all week. Bouncing back from a dreadful showing against the Gators, Towles shut out the noise, put his head down and went back to work. Nothing more, nothing less.

"I just told him it's not the critic that counts," said offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. "I told him it's the man in the arena."

Never did the grit show more than when UK took over the football at its own seven-yard line with 10:43 left, clinging to a 14-10 lead. A three-and-out would have given the visitors good field position in what had been pretty much a field position game all night.

Backed up inside its own 10-yard line, UK saw Jojo Kemp lose a yard on first down. Second down, Towles threw a perfect strike over the middle to Garrett "Juice" Johnson, who turned it into a 35-yard gain.

Three plays later, Towles threw a sideline pass that Dorian Baker — the same Baker who dropped a touchdown pass on the first series against Florida — made a great one-hand catch for 25 yards to the Missouri 29.

Three plays after that, Towles delivered a strike to Johnson again, this time for 29 yards to the five. He then threw a fade route that Baker snatched for a touchdown with 6:20 left to extend the Kentucky lead to 11 points. That was big.

"Patrick didn't throw that last week," Dawson said. "He learned and we scored."

"It was good to see us get in attack mode and make plays when the game was on the line," Stoops said.

After being so off the week before, Towles was so on in this one. Towles completed his last 11 passes in the first half to finish 14-for-15 for 120 yards through the first two quarters. He also rushed for 21 yards, including a 14-yard scramble for a score that tied the game 7-7.

Towles got off to another shaky start in the third quarter, missing on four of his first five throws. But then, on Kentucky's final play of the third period, hit an open tight end C.J. Conrad for a 24-yard touchdown that put Kentucky up 14-10.

Then on the fourth quarter drive that extended the lead, Towles was a perfect 5-for-5 for 95 yards and the score.

In the end, Kentucky snapped an 18-game losing streak against ranked opponents, registering its first win over a ranked team since a win over South Carolina in 2010.

The UK victory snapped an 11-game Missouri road winning streak. It also was won the way the Tigers win their games. Missouri won six SEC games by 10-points-or-less on the way to the 2014 East Division title. Gary Pinkel's club had already won two games by that slim margin this year. But not Saturday.

"This was a tough, hard-fought SEC game," Stoops said.

You have to think that Towles experience helped him weather the week, helped him Saturday night, helped the Cats get a huge win to go 3-1 overall and 2-1 in the SEC.

Deserving of a game ball.

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