UK Football

Mark Story: What Mark Stoops and UK should do right now at quarterback

Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles left the Commonwealth Stadium field Saturday after the Wildcats lost to Florida, 14-9.
Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles left the Commonwealth Stadium field Saturday after the Wildcats lost to Florida, 14-9. Herald-Leader

When the Kentucky football program issued its weekly depth chart Monday morning, the eye was immediately drawn to the quarterback line. For the 16th consecutive game, Patrick Towles was listed as the UK starter.

After Towles struggled in what became Kentucky's 29th annual loss to Florida, that was not what a restive fan base wanted to see.

But it is the right decision.

At least, for this week.

"I think a lot of people, it's easy to look for someone to blame when you lose a game," UK Coach Mark Stoops said Monday at his weekly news conference. "I don't think that's right or fair. That's not been my style. If there is any one person and anything to blame, it all starts with me. (But) we will play better at quarterback."

Should Kentucky have to make a quarterback change, Missouri — which will visit Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday night at 7:30 — is not the opponent against whom you do it.

Gary Pinkel's Tigers, the two-time defending SEC East champions, will come to Lexington leading the SEC in scoring defense (allowing 9.7 points a game), total defense (217 yards) and pass defense (112 yards).

If it comes to switching from Towles to redshirt freshman Drew Barker, the optimum place on the schedule to make that move would be the Eastern Kentucky contest Oct. 3. That way, Kentucky's new starting QB would make his debut against an FCS foe — albeit one with some high-level defensive talent. Then, he would have 11 days to prepare before Kentucky hosts Auburn in the first-ever Thursday night game in Commonwealth Stadium.

Unless you are a relative or a friend of Barker, you ought to root for Towles to play well enough against Mizzou to put talk of a QB switch to bed.

If he doesn't, a quarterback change would mean that UK has essentially wasted the experience gained from Towles' 15 consecutive starts. You would be starting over with a QB who has never played a college down.

None of which is to say there are not legitimate questions about Towles.

His 8-for-24 passing performance against Florida continued a worrisome trend. In his last seven starts going back to last season, Towles is completing only 51.7 percent of his passes (107 of 207) and has thrown more interceptions (nine) than touchdown passes (five).

As impressive as Florida was defensively in its 14-9 win over Kentucky — its line athletic and disruptive, its cornerbacks dynamic and tough — Towles had the chance to make the throws that would have beaten the Gators.

UK left three touchdown passes on the field. On the fourth Kentucky play from scrimmage, Towles hit Dorian Baker in the end zone for what would have been a 41-yard touchdown.

Baker dropped it — which cannot be blamed on the QB.

However, Towles had Blake Bone open in the end zone on a slant on the first play of the fourth quarter and badly overthrew him. Later in that period, the UK QB had a streaking Garrett Johnson open in the front corner of the end zone on a sideline route and over-led him.

Those are throws a winning SEC quarterback has to complete.

Asked where Towles needs to show improvement, Stoops said "probably the same things that you saw and he saw, that certain passes that are there, we can't miss them.

"He does some very good things. The deep ball he threw to Jeff (Badet, for 45 yards in the fourth quarter), and there are passes throughout the game where the talent is there."

Using a basketball analogy, Stoops said "when there are layups there, you can't miss layups. (Doing) that, (Towles) has to improve on — and he knows that."

Beating No. 25 Missouri on Saturday would lack the emotional wallop that would have come from ending the embarrassing losing skid to Florida. However, besting Mizzou would represent the first victory over a ranked foe of the Stoops era. It would also be a win over the coach, Pinkel, who has done the best coaching job in the SEC over the past two years.

For Patrick Towles, it is a chance to reaffirm his hold on the Kentucky starting job.

If he does not seize it, the debate over whose name should be No. 1 on the UK QB depth chart next week gets really interesting.

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