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By LARRY VAUGHT
Freshman quarterback Patrick Towles has a high ankle sprain that may or may not prevent him from playing again this season.
Towles led an 80-yard scoring drive in his first UK appearance in Saturday’s loss to Mississippi State, but was hurt on his fourth play after throwing his first touchdown pass. Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said Monday he was listed as “week to week” with another true freshman, Jalen Whitlow, No. 1 on this week’s depth chart again with senior Morgan Newton now No. 2.
Phillips said all “kids heal differently” and that’s why it is hard to predict when Towles, who was 5-for-5 passing on his first drive, might return. The coach noted that offensive tackles Darrian Miller and Kevin Mitchell have not missed a snap after spraining their ankles because they don’t have to move as much as players at some other positions do. He says Towles could also recover quicker than a running back or receiver might.
“Guys heal differently,” Phillips said. “We will just have to wait and see.”
Since Towles has played in only one game and is now injured, he would be eligible to apply for a medical redshirt year if he so desired if he does not play again this season. A player cannot play in the second half of the season and apply for a medical redshirt.
“That is something we would have to discuss with him and his family to make sure all in his order,” Phillips said when asked about a potential medical redshirt season. “I have talked to him and have told him I will do what is best for him first. That is what we need to do and what we are about.”
Phillips again emphasized that he told Towles, who was hurt trying to break a tackle as he was being sacked, not to “fight” when he knows a Southeastern Conference defensive lineman has him.
“When a guy bears hugs you, you are not going to shake those guys off. Last year the guy grabbing him was maybe a 150 pounds,” Phillips said. “Go down gracefully. Learn how to fall. Towles might have slung that little guy off him last year, but he not going to do that this year.”
Phillips said Towles was given plays to make him “feel comfortable” on his 80-yard drive and that the Cats used maximum pass protection to look after him and make his job easier on that series. “He stood in there and made plays,” Phillips said. “I thought his first series was really good.”
Phillips said UK ran the ball three times on Towles’ second series because it gained 6 and 3 yards on the first two plays before failing on a third-and-one run. Towles was hurt on the first play of his third series.
“He made a couple of plays in his third series, but that’s to be expected,” Phillips said.
Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders was not happy with Whitlow’s play against Mississippi State and said he had to “play better” to give UK a chance to win. Phillips said the main thing he has to do is be quicker with his decision making.
“Getting the ball out of his hands quicker. He has to make decisions a lot quicker. Run, throw it, get it out of your hands,” Phillips said.
Newton was UK’s starting quarterback the end of the 2009 season and again in 2011. However, he lost that spot to Maxwell Smith this year and was ineffective at Florida after Smith was hurt — he had ankle surgery last week — and still seems slowed by a shoulder injury that sidelined him last year and forced off-season surgery.
“There is not much rehab you can do now,” Phillips said. “He just has to continue to throw and get comfortable in throwing all the routes. There is not much you can do as far as rehabbing him. He has to be the backup.”
The emergency third quarterback at Arkansas Saturday night will be true freshman Jeff Witthuhn, a walk-on play from Bowling Green.
“We will have three quarterbacks. Two that have played and one that has not played,” Phillips said. “Witthuhn may have to help us get out of the game (if Whitlow and Newton are injured.”