Quarterbacks largely defined the SEC in 2013, but that trend never made it to Kentucky, where the Wildcats’ offense never found its footing in the passing game. Kentucky coach Mark Stoops hopes redshirt sophomore Patrick Towles will change that.
Stoops announced via Twitter on Monday that Towles will be the Wildcats’ starting quarterback for the team’s opening game against Tennessee-Martin on Aug. 30.
“This competition has brought out the best in our quarterbacks and I'm confident in Patrick moving our team forward,” Stoops tweeted.
Towles will be tasked with finally getting offensive coordinator Neal Brown’s “Air Raid” offense off the ground at Kentucky. Brown came to Lexington before last season from Texas Tech, where his offense ranked top 10 nationally in all three years of his tenure in Lubbock. But due to depth and talent issues, the Wildcats finished 10th or worse in the SEC in total offense (5.3 yards per play) and passing offense (6.8 yards per attempt) in 2013. Couple that attack with a porous defense, and it’s no surprise Kentucky limped to a two-win season.
Towles last saw the field as a true freshman in 2012, when he completed 19 of 40 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown in five games. That touchdown came in his first-career drive against Mississippi State, when he completed all five of his passes and led the offense 71 yards capped by a 32-yard touchdown pass. As only a freshman, Towles showed flashes of the talent that helped him land among Rivals.com’s top 10 pro-style quarterbacks in the class of 2012.
Towles redshirted his true sophomore year last fall, and his time spent off the field appeared to have benefited him in Kentucky’s current quarterback battle. Coaches pressed for Towles to focus on tweaking his technique and his footwork during his redshirt year, and that work spilled into the offseason. Towles said as much after Kentucky’s Blue and White spring scrimmage in April.
“It's fundamental stuff that when you don't keep practicing, you tend to lose,” Towles told reporters. “So, like I said, in May, June, July and August, that's what's going to get fixed."
Kentucky’s offense has plenty of potential with Towles behind the wheel. The quarterback was a legitimate scrambling threat as a prep passer, when he rushed for 589 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior at Highlands High in Ft. Thomas, Ky. That's why the ground game could emerge as the strength of Kentucky’s offense. Nebraska transfer tailback Braylon Heard and former four-star running back Jojo Kemp look like developing weapons in the backfield, and four starters return on the offensive line. There's plenty to like in the passing game, too: Five of last year’s top six pass-catchers return to Lexington.
Towles knows how to win -- he claimed three straight state titles as a starter at Highland -- and his running ability should add an extra wrinkle to Brown’s offense. So much of the Stoops era has been built on potential, but Towles’ talent might be just what the Wildcats need for the offense to take a major step forward.