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Randy Sanders says Towles rusty, Whitlow improving and Newton could still play in QB rotation


The first word Kentucky offensive coordinator Randy Sanders used to describe freshman quarterback Patrick Towles Tuesday was “rusty.” Towles got the clearance to return to practice after injuring his ankle Oct. 6 during a loss to Mississippi State when he made his first appearance of the season and led UK on an 80-yard scoring drive on his first series. However, four plays later he sprained his ankle.

He had been scheduled for a redshirt season until starting quarterback Maxwell Smith was lost for the season with an injury and Towles practiced with the first team for the first time the week of the Mississippi State game.

“It’s easy to forget when he got hurt against Mississippi State that was really his first week of not being down running off cards on scout team. It was good to have him back out there (today),” Sanders said after Tuesday’s practice. “It was good to have him in the huddle just making the calls. I liked the way he handled things at the line of scrimmage and all that, but it’s pretty obvious that he’s rusty and needs work.”

The coach said it was hard to tell how his ankle actually was.

“He had so much tape on it, I don’t know. He got along OK today, but between the tape and the air cast and the high-tops (shoes), it would’ve had a hard time rolling over,” Sanders said.

Sanders did say Towles seems to understand the playbook better after spending last week studying it even when he could not play and that could enhance his chances of playing Saturday at Georgia.

“Understanding it on paper or understanding it in the meeting room or on film is still a whole lot different than executing it. I do think he’s put in a lot of effort in staying into it mentally,” Sanders said. “I tried to coach him just as hard while he was hurt as I was while I was trying to get him ready (to play). So I do think he is further along, but still executing it on the field, the fast pace, we’ve got to work on that.”

Kentucky’s passing game has struggled since Smith’s injury against South Carolina other than the one series Towles had where he was 5-for-5 on the scoring drive. Towles was a pure dropback passer at Highlands, something freshman quarterback Jalen Whitlow was not.

“He (Towles) threw the ball a lot (in high school) and he’s used to being in the pocket and seeing things. He’s not quite used to the speed of the rush. He’s not quite used to the speed of the routes or the defenders and how fast windows close, but he does have more reps in the passing game,” Sanders said. “And the thing he can do, he can throw the ball. There’s no question. Just getting him to throw it to the right guy all the time, that’s the biggest challenge.”

Whitlow has been the starter the last three games and played most of the game against South Carolina after Smith was injured early in the first quarter. Sanders thought he did “OK” in last week’s 29-24 loss to Georgia.

“For where he is, he didn’t have any major mistakes we had to go through from that game, didn’t have any turnovers. He didn’t have any mess-ups with communication, formations. He didn’t forget any motions or anything like that,” Sanders said.

He did miss the third quarter because of a migraine headache.

“I think that’s something that our trainers have to be prepared for, our doctors have to be prepared for. To me, a migraine’s no different than a sprained ankle or a broken shoulder pad buckle or something like that. They can happen at any time. You’ve got togo play the game and if it happens, you try to address it.”

Kentucky went with senior quarterback Morgan Newton as a red zone quarterback last week and twice he got UK into the end zone — once running, once passing. But if Towles is able to play, that could impact Newton’s status as the Wildcat quarterback inside the 20-yard line.

“Morgan still brings something into the equation for us. Having Jalen have the ability to step back and see things from the sideline I think has helped him. How much Morgan factors in is a little bit dependent on how Patrick’s ankle is. It’s hard to play three guys, but at the same time you can do it if you need to in special situations,” Sanders said.

Another problem Saturday could be that Missouri is averaging 8.5 tackles for loss per game.

“They’re good. They have a good front. They’ve got a lot of experience on defense. Their linebackers seems … they’ve been there a long time, seen a lot of football. They’re good players. Their front is good,” Sanders said. “It’s going to be a big challenge for us. It’s going to be a huge challenge to run the ball and there’s no question we’re still going to have to execute in the passing game. We’ll have to do a good job in protection and have to make some plays down the field.”

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  1. Tom

    Those 8.5 tackles per game for losses by Missouri scare me concerning Towles if he’s not quite healed. Since he makes it clear he doesn’t want a RS, he could still be ready for our last 3 games.

  2. RJ

    At best Towles will be maybe 50% in terms of mobility and add to that his talent, ability and being “rusty” makes him maybe 85% game ready overall. Is that going to be better that a Whitlow at 100%? I don’t know. But I do know that when Towles is a senior, he will regret not taking the red shirt. Worst case is he reinjures the ankle and is lost for the season and he gave up the red shirt for less than a 1 quarter of playing time.

  3. Bill

    Only time will tell if there will be regret for taking his redshirt off. From everything I have read, this young man will graduate in 4 years. I suspect if he is ready to take the next step after 4 years he will. I share Tom’s concern. A high ankle sprain takes time to heal. One of his strengths is he can be mobile and I suspect that will be needed against Missouri.

    1. RJ

      I hope you are right. However, UK’s history is not in his favor.

  4. Pacman

    If Towles is as bad as Joker Phillips said he was (4th string on the depth chart) why do we care if he comes back this year or not? We still have our Number 2 QB (Newton) and our number 3 QB (Whitlow) to play. It seems people shouldn’t care about the 4th string guy. Per Joker Towles “obviously is 4th string because Whitlow beat him out in the Fall” and he was only good enough to run the scout team. Seems like much ado about nothing :)

    1. RJ

      Do you really believe that? :)

    2. Brock

      Packman the only reason Towles was on the scout team was because he was being redshirted to put 2 years between him and another great QB Smith. Proof of this was Phillips pulling Towles redshirt as soon as trainers declaired Smith lost for the season. Need more proof of the coaching staff’s belief in Towles? Phillips immediately announced Towles would play in the very next game that was only 3 practice days away, even though Towles had only previously practiced with the scout team. The scout team doesn’t even really practice the first team’s plays. They try to simulate what UK’s defence will see from the opposing team of the next game. Towles is the real deal, and the staff knows it. They just needed to put space between him and a great QB in Smith who already knew the offence very well and could exicute it from the very first game. What really sucks about Towles loosing his redshirt and Smith taking a medical redshirt is that next year they will both be sophomores. At least one of them will transfer, and maybe both if there is a coaching change. This season more than any I’ve witnessed gives me a “what could have been” feeling. Few people outside of the practice field know how good this offence would have been without Smith’s injury.

  5. Ben

    I have very little confidence or respect for what this coaching staff says!

    1. RJ

      Yeah. I don’t buy that Whitlow beat him out in the fall either. IMPO the coaching staff had always had a red shirt in mind for Towles and did not give him many reps. Why? To get the QB rotation in line and give him a year to mature and learn. So much for maturity. I’ll go out on a limb here and state that the coaching staff had a “Randall Cobb” type position in mind for Whitlow.

      Why do I say that? If Whitlow could not hold down the full time starting QB position in high school, why on earth would he be recruited as a SEC QB? I read about some very good high school QB’s who start four years that never see the light of day in a SEC school as QB. Doesn’t make sense.

  6. Tana

    Brock, your post is a really fair one, in my opinion. In fact, it’s one of the best, if not the best, post I’ve read about Kentucky football in quite a while.

    Specifically, in regard to what the staff had thought of/thinks of Patrick Towles, exactly –and the bum luck that has seemed to hit this team and staff this season has even botched, as you have pointed out, their original, seemingly wise plan of getting two years between two extremely talented quarterbacks, Maxwell Smith and Patrick Towles. Your best statement, though, is that most folks just don’t realize “HOW GOOD this offense would have been without Smith’s injury.”

    This fan fully realizes that “what COULD have been” this season, and the loss of Smith, thus, still makes me sick. Watching Smith lead this offense against Louisville, I had been so excited about what this team could become as the very young defense would gain experience (and since my beloved mom taught me not to say anything at all if I couldn’t say something nice, I just won’t say anything about the defense that opening game). Unfortunately, Smith began the second game with three interceptions — before returning to the very solid leader we had seen against Louisiville. The defense’s inexperience was still glaring, and we lost a game fans will never forget.

    Anyway, I hear you, Bill, on both counts. No, we cannot know what would have been, BUT like you, I will always have those doubts about what “could have been” with a healthy Maxwell Smith. Then for me, too, Smith’s and Towles’ now being in the same class makes me sick, too — two VERY fine quarterbacks. GO CATS! BEAT THOSE TIGERS!

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