LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Patrick Towles isn't about to let nerves spoil the opportunity he has waited for his whole career.
Kentucky's new starting quarterback has encountered many bumps, from being thrown into action as a freshman in 2012 because of injuries to struggling to learn a new coaching staff and offensive scheme last fall. Being redshirted has turned out to be a blessing for Towles, who revamped his mechanics and mindset well enough to claim the job he always dreamed about.
Towles knows his first career start in Saturday's season opener against Tennessee-Martin won't be totally smooth. But considering the obstacles he overcame, he hungers for precision.
The same can be said for the Wildcats, who begin Year 2 under coach Mark Stoops seeking more victories after consecutive 2-10 seasons.
Asked this week about his focus approaching the game, the 6-foot-5 Towles said, ''It's hard, but I'm excited. You know that you have to get prepared for the game and you can't be all excited and have your going mind everywhere in 25 different places during practice or else you're not going to get anything productive done.''
For Kentucky, offensive productivity means moving the ball quickly and lighting up the scoreboard after averaging just 20.5 points game and running a Southeastern Conference-low 774 plays last season. Towles was a spectator to those struggles because of his slowness releasing the ball, an area he addressed in offseason workouts with a private QB coach.
He eventually beat out Reese Phillips and Drew Barker for the job and is charged with executing offensive coordinator Neal Brown's up-tempo, pass-happy Air Raid scheme. Its success depends on keeping Towles poised and comfortable, though Brown expects some jitters from his QB.
''You just go out and play through it,'' he said. ''The good thing is he's played a little bit, but this is the first time I guess he's truly been the man. ... If he was starting for his fourth straight year, he'd be nervous in game one too.''
Kentucky seeks a strong start against the FCS Skyhawks and next week against Ohio to build confidence and momentum they hope will carry over into SEC play. But the Wildcats aren't looking past their inaugural meeting against a UT-Martin squad looking to improve on last year's 7-5 finish.
The Skyhawks seek their first win in four tries against the SEC by trying to put the brakes on the Wildcats' plans.
''My goal is for us to play as well as we can play, no matter who we play,'' UT Martin coach Jason Simpson said, adding that his team ''must avoid costly mistakes and obviously give yourself a chance (to win) in the fourth quarter.''
Here are some things to look for when Tennessee-Martin and Kentucky meet on Saturday:
NEW KENTUCKY O-LINE: Junior Jordan Swindle moves from right to left tackle in place of two-year starter Darrian Miller, who is suspended for this week's game. The Wildcats will also start two redshirt freshmen on the right side with guard Ramsey Myers and tackle Kyle Meadows.
BELL-RINGER: Kentucky's offensive line must account for Tennessee-Martin senior linebacker Tony Bell, a preseason All-America after posting 10.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss as a junior.
WILDCATS' YOUTH: Stoops' promise to use both recruiting classes extensively is reflected in Kentucky's two-deep depth chart featuring 21 freshmen and sophomores. The Wildcats' wide receiver list alone features four freshmen.
SKYHAWKS QBS: Junior Jarod Neal and senior Dylan Favre - nephew of former NFL QB great Brett Favre - combined for 2,610 yards with nine TDs each last season. Simpson doesn't seem inclined to pick just one signal-caller and said this week that ''I don't think it's fair to say this guy is going to get the whole game because there's another guy sitting right behind him that can make some plays as well. It'll work itself out.''
KEEP IT MOVING: Last year's adjustment to a new staff and system has given way to familiarity that coaches believe will result in quicker execution for the Wildcats, particularly on offense. Said Brown, ''there's going to be some times in this game where we'll play at a really quick pace, faster than we ever executed last year.''
Follow Gary B. Graves on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GaryBGraves