Kentucky coach Mark Stoops has named redshirt sophomore Patrick Towles as the Wildcats’ starting quarterback, addressing the team’s biggest question since last spring.
Stoops first tweeted out his decision before Monday morning’s practice, then said afterward, "Truth is, he won the job. It was close. He just won out over the other quarterbacks."
The 6-foot-5, 238-pound Towles was redshirted last season after playing five games as a freshman but came back this spring to become the favorite to lead Kentucky’s pass-oriented "Air Raid" offense. The Fort Thomas native still had to beat out freshman Drew Barker, redshirt freshman Reese Phillips and junior Maxwell Smith in fall camp and just last week coaches were expressing hope that one would distinguish himself.
Stoops ultimately chose Towles, who arrived to much fanfare as the state’s Mr. Football and high expectations of even starting quickly because of his ability to throw deep. While injuries to Smith pressed him into action, issues with Towles’ mechanics eventually left him out of the mix.
Towles worked hard to correct them and his improvement showed in Kentucky’s spring game as he completed 9 of 10 passes for 110 yards. His improvement has continued throughout camp including Monday’s workout, when he unleashed several long passes and put zip on his short attempts.
There were also mistakes as expected, but Towles appeared to play more confidently. Being told before practice that he would be the starter probably had a lot to do with his demeanor, though Stoops joked that he briefly led Towles to believe he wasn’t the choice before quickly saying the job was his.
Towles wasn’t available to the media after practice but Stoops said in considering all his quarterbacks’ qualities that Towles continually stood above his competitors.
"We looked at everything through the spring and fall and I can’t say it’s one thing" that helped Towles, said Stoops, who wouldn’t name a backup. "They each do some good things and I have confidence in all of them. Patrick’s done a very good job."
Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown praised Towles’ determination to bounce back after being the odd man out last season. Rather than complain or lose confidence, he worked hard to get back into the quarterback discussion and eventually established himself as the front-runner.
"He just looked himself in the mirror," Brown said.
Stoops’ announcement means the Wildcats will enter the Aug. 30 season opener against Tennessee-Martin with their third different starting QB in as many years. Jalen Whitlow and Smith alternated last year’s opener against Western Kentucky and several more times during the season before Smith sustained a shoulder injury that required offseason surgery and kept him out of spring drills.
Smith started the 2012 opener before sustaining an ankle injury against South Carolina that ultimately ended his season and opened the door for Whitlow, who has transferred to Eastern Illinois.
Towles’ mission now is using size and big arm to inject life into the Wildcats’ passing game as they try to rebound from back-to-back 2-10 seasons and end a 16-game SEC losing streak.
Kentucky averaged just 193 yards per game through the air last season to rank 10th of 14 Southeastern Conference teams. The Wildcats were next to last in total offense (341.3 yards).
While Towles’ impact remains to be seen, Stoops said naming the starter now demonstrates how far he has come and will help the offensive preparation before the opener. The coach said he’s not relieved about finally deciding on a starter but added that he’s glad to be able to move on from the subject that hung over him and the team.