UK Football

UK football: Minor adjustment yields major improvement for QB Patrick Towles

Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Patrick Towles (14) threw downfield as Kentucky defeated  #25 Missouri 21-13 on Saturday September 26, 2015 in Lexington, KY. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Patrick Towles (14) threw downfield as Kentucky defeated #25 Missouri 21-13 on Saturday September 26, 2015 in Lexington, KY. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

The ups and downs are nauseating.

For fans and for Patrick Towles.

Four games into the season, the Kentucky quarterback has had two games in which he completed less than 48 percent of his passes.

In the other two games, Towles has thrown for better than 72 percent, including Saturday against Missouri, when he connected on a career-best 81.5 percent of his throws.

It's been a wild ride for Towles this season, but the junior and his coaches think he's finally on a pathway to peace, statistically.

"His overall comfort level Saturday was higher than it's been," offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said of Towles. "We fine-tuned some things that he likes doing and focused on those things and put him in a good place mentally, and he was able to perform.

"I think that it was a combination of his side and my side probably coming together a little bit."

Dawson defended Towles a bit, too, noting that the red-shirt junior quarterback was on his third quarterback coach in four years, which might be a factor in his consistency issues.

"It's going to take him some time to develop some comfort, so it just takes time," Dawson said Saturday after Towles led the Cats over a ranked Missouri team, throwing for 249 yards and two touchdowns, and rushing for score. "I knew eventually it would click."

Kentucky was nine of 14 on third-down attempts against Missouri, including seven on plays made by Towles (three runs and four completed passes).

"He was on it," said wide out Garrett Johnson, whom Towles found six times for 119 yards. "Whether he was throwing or you saw him running, just breaking out of tackles, he had a great day."

Coaches knew Towles had a game like that in him, they had to find ways to bring it out of him, Dawson said. That meant asking him to make plays with which he was most comfortable.

"I felt that this week of practice and just leading up to this game, he was way more comfortable in his own skin for whatever reason," Dawson said.

There were some behind-the-scenes tweaks, too, physical and mental.

Physically, Dawson noticed something while playing a game of catch with his quarterback recently. He worked with Towles to get the ball out a little higher.

"Just the way his ball comes out, sometimes it's more of a slingshot," Dawson explained. "He's more compact when you come over the top with it. It's not that big of a change, but it's just a slight change that just kind of lined him up good.

"The ball started coming out a little better. It's a little easier to throw like that, doesn't take as much energy."

Towles said he's been toying with his throw a lot in the past few years, specifically saying he doesn't always throw the ball the same way that he's seen other quarterback throw it.

"I don't know if it's pitching in my blood or whatever it is, but I have a tendency to come three-quarters," Towles, grandson of National Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning, said of his throw. "You can't necessarily be super accurate then. So I'm just trying to go more over the top, and I think it's working."

For a change that Towles termed "very, very minor," he said the result was "major."

The 6-foot-5, 240-pound junior said he feels better when the ball leaves his hands, much more so than it felt even in his most consistent games of the past.

That's how he knows he's on the other side of the inconsistency roller coaster.

"I was hitting a lot of throws in the South Carolina game, but some of those, I don't want to say luck, but I think if I throw that ball 40 times it might miss more often than not," he said Tuesday.

"But the way I've been throwing today — I threw awesome today — and the way that I feel on Saturday, there's a lot less room for error in the motion, and I like it a lot."

'Go for it, big boy'

And while the physical changes are important, perhaps the mental adjustments were most profound.

After the win over Missouri, Towles said he tried to take the advice of coaches and teammates and lighten up, play looser.

"I just tried to act like it was a Friday night in Fort Thomas playing high school football out there and it was a lot of fun," the former Highlands star said.

Part of that loosening up meant making plays with his feet, even some plays that were ill-advised at the time.

As the quarters turned Saturday, Towles went to Dawson in the huddle wanting to run a specific play.

Dawson cautioned against the play (called "boot") on third-and-9 near the end zone. The offensive coordinator warned Towles that the defensive end was going to be there to greet him when he took off.

"And he said, 'I don't care,'" Dawson said Saturday night. "So I said, 'Go for it, big boy.'"

Towles did. The defensive end did exactly what Dawson predicted, but Towles scrambled 14 yards to tie the game 7-7.

"It was a terrible call against that defense, and he made it work," Dawson said. "He's athletic enough to make things work when it's bad, and that's when you get better."

It was all a part of a bigger message that Dawson had for Towles, who took his share of bashing the week after the Florida game. The new offensive coordinator told Towles to have faith that he will make the next play.

"You've got to consider sources and believe in yourself, trust in yourself," Dawson said he told Towles.

And while pundits and fans might have questioned Towles' ability to lead the Kentucky offense, the players did not. They knew he was going to get on track.

"With Patrick, people were bad mouthing him a lot, but he's a great player, he's a great athlete," wideout Dorian Baker said. "I'll never doubt my quarterback."

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