When you are coming off the worst game of your brief tenure as a starting college quarterback, it's hard to imagine a better bounce-back scenario than going head to head with an opposing QB considered the Heisman Trophy favorite.
That's where Kentucky's Patrick Towles found himself on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Commonwealth Stadium. A week ago at LSU, Towles and the Kentucky offense laid an egg. UK was routed 41-3 and Towles threw for only 146 yards.
Seven days later, given a head-to-head matchup with Mississippi State star quarterback Dak Prescott, Towles recovered with flair. If you just looked at the individual numbers, you might have thought it was the UK QB who was Saturday's main attraction.
Keeping UK in a shootout with the nation's No. 1-ranked team until the game's final minutes, Towles threw for a career-high 390 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for two scores.
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Had it not been for the negative yardage from six sacks, Towles would have run for more than 100 yards, too. As it was he gained 123 yards on 23 carries, but lost 47 for a net-rushing total of 76.
Alas, his bounce-back effort was not enough.
Grinding Kentucky down with a punishing rushing attack, Mississippi State (7-0, 4-0 SEC) won the first game it has ever played as the country's top-ranked team, 45-31 before a rowdy Commonwealth Stadium crowd.
"We're in the business of winning football games; we're not in the business of playing close in football games," Towles said afterward. "There's some peace in that we gave all we had and went right at them. But, not good enough."
Towles said he did not draw extra motivation from the fact that a Heisman Trophy favorite, Prescott, was the opposing quarterback.
"Not really," Towles said. "I was worried about their defense. Our defense was worried about him. I was just worried about winning the football game."
Prescott finished with 88 yards rushing and two touchdowns. He also threw for 216 yards and a score. But the Mississippi State star had two advantages Saturday that Towles did not.
One was playing from the lead. From the 2:41 mark of the first quarter, MSU led for the entire game.
The second was Josh Robinson. A 5-9, 215-pound bowling ball of a running back, Robinson continually ran through would-be UK tacklers en route to a 198-yard rushing performance.
Still, Towles kept Kentucky in contention with big plays. In the first quarter, he hit Demarco Robinson with a 67-yard scoring toss that briefly tied the game at 7. Robinson made a leaping catch along the sideline, somehow kept his feet inbounds, then eluded two MSU defenders and scored.
"Great play. Great play after the catch," Towles said. "I kind of threw it a little too much inside. He made a couple of people miss and took off."
Towles' best throw of the day came in quarter three. He put a laser in between the MSU safeties that Javess Blue took to the house for a 58-yard touchdown.
"A perfect pass," Blue said.
For Towles and Kentucky, frustration came from the fact that UK pulled within seven points three times in the second half. Twice, the Cats got the ball back down only a touchdown. UK went three and out both times.
The final time, after Towles' second TD run pulled the Cats within 41-34 with 2:31 left in the game, MSU ran Kentucky's attempted onside kick back for the clinching TD.
It was the two three-and-outs that rankled Towles. "Just didn't make plays," he said. "Had opportunity to make plays, and just didn't."
Still, Towles showed something in the way he bounced back after a rough go in the Bayou.
"It says he's going to fight. That's what I like about him," Demarco Robinson said. "He never stays down on himself too long."
Said MSU Coach Dan Mullen: "The quarterback and some of the throws he made, runs after catch and stuff like that, they are a very dangerous team."
Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown said the best thing about Towles is that, as a redshirt sophomore, he still has a higher ceiling he can reach.
"The good thing about Patrick, he played really well against the No. 1 team in the country," Brown said. "But there's still room for growth. He'll learn. Dak Prescott, this is his second year starting. He probably made some of the same mistakes (Towles makes) last year."
Is there a chance Towles can reach the level of the quarterback he opposed Saturday?
Said Brown: "That kid's up there for the Heisman. I don't want to put that kind of expectations on anybody. But (Towles) is talented.
"He made some throws tonight and he made some throws at Florida that were 'wow throws.' He's got big-time arm talent."
Now, we also know Patrick Towles has a big-time capacity for bouncing back, too.