By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — After coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator analyzed data going back to Kentucky’s winter workouts and through Saturday’s scrimmage, they came to the conclusion that sophomore Patrick Towles should be the starting quarterback.
Stoops announced the decision on Twitter before Monday’s open practice not long after he had messed with Towles for just a few seconds and indicated he wasn’t going to be the starter in the battle he had with freshmen Reese Phillips and Drew Barker.
“He was relieved. I let on for a moment that it was going the other way. But I couldn’t do that too long because he’s been through a lot. I didn’t have the heart to drag that out for more than about five seconds. But like I said, it was close. He won the job and I have a lot of confidence in him, but I really like the way he went about his work for the past year,” said Stoops.
Towles led Highlands to three state titles and a 38-1 record in high school and was named Kentucky’s Mr. Football. However, he played only sparingly in 2012 as a true freshman and threw for 233 yards and a score. Last year he was redshirted when Stoops and Brown decided to go with Jaylen Whitlow, who transferred during spring practice, and Maxwell Smith, who is still limited by offseason shoulder surgery.
The 6-5, 238-pound Towles, who was not made available to the media Monday, completed 11 of 15 passes for 126 yards in UK’s spring game and led three scoring drives. In Saturday’s scrimmage, he threw an interception that was returned for a score but came right back to lead two scoring drives.
While Stoops continued to say each quarterback did certain things well and that he knew no matter who won the job that UK’s quarterback play would be improved, he said Towles did a “very good job” to win the starting spot.
“I have a lot of confidence in Patrick. He’s worked extremely hard. I said it to you all before that I was proud of his work ethic. A lot of people, a year ago when he was told that he was not gonna be in the mix, could have put their head down. They could have quit, they could have transferred,” Stoops said. “Or they face it and get improvement. And he worked. And I’m proud of that.
“I like the fact that he he just went to work to get better. I think that sends a good message to the rest of the team. But the truth is that he won the job. It wasn’t just for that reason alone. He won the job. It was very close, but he ended up being the winner. He won it over all three other quarterbacks.”
Stoops said there was a lot to like about Towles.
“Patrick has a big arm. He’s sneaky fast, too, as well. He’s maybe not as fleet of foot as some other guys, but in the open field he’s really got some pretty good speed,” Stoops said. “He’s a big guy. He’s strong. And he can make all the throws. He’s improved on his release. He’s much quicker getting rid of the ball, and that improves his decision making. And that’s the biggest area of improvement for him over a year.”
Stoops said he was “relieved” to have the starter named with UK trying to prepare to open the season Aug. 30 against UT-Martin.
“I’m glad to make this decision and move on. I feel good about the timeline of it. If it would’ve happened a month earlier or if it had happened last spring, I would’ve done it. I wasn’t comfortable making that decision until now,” he said.
Brown did not want to say he was relieved to have a starter.
“I think it’s good that the team needs to know, the fan base needs to know who we’re going forward with in the Martin game, but I wouldn’t say necessarily relieved,” Brown said.
Towles went out during the offseason and got extra work with two quarterback gurus — one in Kentucky, one in California.
“To me the biggest thing that Patrick did is he looked himself in the mirror. I think the easiest thing to do in our society today is, ‘It’s everybody else’s fault.’ You know? When you don’t get what you want, when you don’t get instant gratification, well who’s fault is it? It can’t be mine. What he did — and it took him a little bit to get to this point — what he did is he basically looked himself in the mirror and said, ‘What I’m doing off the field, what I’m doing on the field is not good enough for me to be the starting quarterback at the University of Kentucky. So what can I do to change that, to change the outcome?’” Brown said.
“We’ve talked about the definition of insanity is doing the same thing with the same result, so what he did is he really grew up, he matured, became more serious about football, started doing things right off the field. And what I mean by that is — he was always a good kid, I don’t mean that — he made football one of the top priorities in his life. After the givens, he made football a top priority.
“He went out and got a lot of drill work. We focused on fundamentals, which was really important to him. He went out and got some extra work, and he was productive. At the end of the day this business is on production. He was productive in live scrimmage situations, the most productive, and that’s why he’ll start week one.”
“Obviously he got all the reps — or, I’ll say probably 90 percent of the reps with the ones today. That’s the way we’ll move forward going into game week,” Brown said.
Brown said Towles was excited Monday when he got the news about starting, but the offensive coordinator also had some advice for him.
“What I told him though: this is just the start. You’ve got the opportunity, let’s see what you do with the opportunity,” Brown said.