By LARRY VAUGHT
The first time Patrick Towles got into a game at Kentucky, he led a touchdown drive against Mississippi State in 2012 that had many expecting him to take over at quarterback. Instead, he got hurt, played sparingly the rest of the season and then was redshirted last year.
Now he’s won the starting job for the first time going into a season after coach Mark Stoops announced Monday that Towles, a sophomore, would start over Drew Barker and Reese Phillips.
“I didn’t think that at the time (about how long it would take to eventually start after the first scoring drive), but that’s the way the chips fell. That’s what I have to do. I just have to react to what happens. This Saturday will be the first time I’ve been on the field since Tennessee a year and a half ago, when I played in Knoxville. So it’s going to be a little different, but it’s going to be fun. I’m excited about it,” he said.
Actually, he’s so excited that he’s a week ahead of himself as UK does not play until Aug. 30 when it hosts UT-Martin.
“I’ve been Kentucky through and through for my entire life. I’ve heard no a lot. It was just the last time that I wanted to hear no. I was told things that I needed to get better at. I went out and I got better at them, and now I’m here (as the starter),” Towles said after Monday’s practice.
He was told to improve “everything fundamentally” about his game — and did.
“You have to be fundamentally almost perfect to play well in this league, consistently play well, especially against the people that we play against. My feet had to get better. My release had to change. I had to get my head on straight and really go after this thing. That’s what I did,” he said. “This is just the beginning. Right now I’m focused on Tennessee Martin and next Saturday.”
Practice the last two days has been fun for him.
“I felt like I can play free. Always having to … during the competition I would make a bad throw, and I’d constantly be like, ‘Gosh.’ Every throw had to be perfect, but now it’s a relief that I can go out and just let it all hang out and play,” he said. “I felt like I was a senior in high school and I was just able to play and just make plays. And that’s a good feeling.”
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown said Towles has been the same in practice the last two days as he was before he got the starting nod.
“I think he’s got a good understanding of: This is kind of just the start, you know? I think quarterback a lot of times is the only position where you get named the starter and people make a big deal out of it. If we name Ramsey Meyers the right guard, y’all aren’t really going to talk about him until he plays well,” Brown said Tuesday. “So I think he’s got a realistic expectation of: He got named the starter, now he’s got to play well.
“I think he carried himself like the starter. Not that the other guys didn’t, but I always thought he carried himself like the starter. So I haven’t seen a huge change. I think he’s a little bit relieved. A little bit of pressure has been taken off.”
Brown said Towles is talented enough to run any offense, not just the one UK uses.
“He’s got a strong arm. He’s big. He’s 6-4-plus. I think he’s 240 pounds-plus. He hit like 19.8 miles per hour yesterday in practice, so he runs well. So our offense, any offense, I think he’s capable of doing well,” Brown said.
Towles admitted it was hard to learn then offensive coordinator Randy Sanders’ offense as a true freshman — “or attempted to learn” as he said.
“With this, with the spread, I can — I try to, at least — I’d like to say I can run the ball a little bit when I have to. The spread just opens things up. It opens up more running lanes. It lets you put the ball in your playmakers’ hands. We’ve got great athletes on the outside and inside and it’s great to get them the ball in space.”
Towles doesn’t expect to be any more vocal as the starter. However, there could be a significant change with teammates.
“Whether other guys find me more credible because I’m the starter, that might be the case. My attitude has not changed since the day I stepped on campus,” he said. “Last year, it was kind of a different circumstance. I was on the sideline, and I wasn’t happy I was on the sideline, but I didn’t let my attitude try to affect anybody else’s. So my job being on the sideline was to get everybody else ready to play because I didn’t have to get ready. Me sulking wasn’t gonna help anything.”
“It’s a whole maturation process. It goes through ups and downs. Like I said, when I got here, I was an 18-year-old kid. Playing in front of 65,000 people was nuts. It was crazy. Now I’ve been here for going on my third year in school, and it definitely feel like everything is a lot quicker, sharper and it’s easier to make decisions.”