The suspense is over. When Kentucky sends its offense onto the field against UT-Martin on Saturday, Patrick Towles is expected to be under center.
UK head coach Mark Stoops named the third-year sophomore as the Wildcats’ starting quarterback entering the 2014 season after a prolonged four-man battle that began in the spring.
“Patrick’s done a very good job,” Stoops said. “I have a lot of confidence in Patrick. He’s worked extremely hard.
“A lot of people, a year ago when he was told that he was not going to be in the mix, could have put their head down. They could have quit. They could have transferred. Or they face it and get improvement. He worked, and I’m proud of that. I like the fact that he just went to work to get better. I think that sends a good message to the rest of the team.”
UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown echoed that sentiment.
“I think the biggest thing that Patrick did was look himself in the mirror,” he said. “I think the easy thing to do in our society today is it’s everyone else’s fault. When you don’t get instant gratification, it’s 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, but 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 to be the starting quarterback at the University of Kentucky. So what can I do to change that, to change the outcome?”
The 6-foot-5, 238-pound Towles was coming off a strong showing in the spring and reportedly did well in UK’s last two Saturday scrimmages, which were closed to the media and public.
During Monday’s open practice session, he was particularly sharp on a variety of throws, seldom missing his intended target.
“Patrick has a big arm,” Stoops said. “He’s sneaky fast, too. He runs well. He’s not maybe as fleet of foot as some other guys, but in the open field he’s really got some pretty good speed. He’s a big guy, he’s strong, and he can make all the throws.”
Stoops added that Towles made the biggest improvement since last year in the speed of his release and the speed in which he makes decisions in reading defenses.
Towles is a former Kentucky “Mr. Football” from Fort Thomas Highlands and the grandson of former Major League Baseball pitcher and Hall of Famer Jim Bunning. As a senior at Highlands, he threw for 3,820 yards and 42 touchdowns with only one interception in becoming one of the nation’s most sought-after quarterback prospects.
He played in five games as a freshman in 2012, completing 19 of 40 passes for 233 yards and one touchdown before a severe ankle injury cut short his season. He was redshirted in 2013.
Towles had been competing with redshirt freshman Reese Phillips, freshman Drew Barker and junior Maxwell Smith for the starting job in camp.
“We looked at everything, all spring, all camp, and I don’t know if there is any one answer,” Stoops said. “… They each did do some good things and they each do some bad things. I had confidence in all of those guys. I knew whoever we put out there, we would be improved, and a big portion of that is because the team is improved.”
Stoops declined to name a backup quarterback at this time. “We’re really not in a position to do that yet,” he said.
According to Brown, it’s way too early to speculate whether Barker, one of the Cats’ high-profile signees in their Top 25 recruiting class for this year, would now be considered for a redshirt.
Brown noted that only two quarterbacks in the SEC started every game last season, and with the physical nature of the game, backup quarterbacks have to remain focused and ready to play at any moment.