Karl-Anthony Towns had 18 points and nine rebounds at Monday's Blue-White Scrimmage. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
By Nick Jones, UK Athletics
In his opening statement following Monday night's Blue-White Scrimmage, UK head coach John Calipari said he would have liked to see a few guys play with a little more confidence.
But for freshman power forward Karl-Anthony Towns, confidence has never been an issue.
The 6-foot-11 forward from Piscataway, N.J., brings a rare skill set to a team with more McDonald's All-Americans than many current NBA rosters. On the offensive end Towns sees the floor exceptionally well for a player of his size, he can space the floor by shooting the ball consistently out to 24 feet, and he has developed more post moves than the average 18-year-old hoops star.
Developing these traits on the basketball court comes with the utmost level of confidence and swagger, which is obvious - even to the average fan of the game - as soon as he laces up his size-20 sneakers and takes the court. But Towns, along with a few of his teammates, failed to come out with the type of competitiveness and tenacity the coaching staff was hoping for.
"He fumbled balls today," Calipari said. "There were some one-handed catches, some rebounds he didn't bring in. Plays like that, you know, those are plays that are easily made. Go make those."
Calipari watched the majority of the action as a spectator seated at the end of the scorer's table with his wife, and newly appointed special assistant Tony Barbee. As he grew noticeably more distressed throughout the first half, Cal could not help but intervene during the under-eight media timeout.
He marched over to the blue team's bench, only to have a one-way discussion with his prized freshman big man. When the horn sounded, Towns came out of the timeout with an entirely different mindset.
"When the game started out, it was different," Towns said. "You're playing for the first time this year in front of all these people, and it's very competitive. So we've got to change the gears. You could see when people started to get a little touchy, and some people started getting scored on, it became competitive because we were trying to win. So once that mindset kicked in, we really turned it up a notch."
Towns finished the scrimmage with totals of 20 points and 13 rebounds while knocking down all six of his free-throw attempts.
The Big Blue Nation was spoiled on Monday night in Rupp Arena with the absurd matchups on display, but it was the only real glimpse fans will see this season of the one-on-one battle between Towns and sophomore center Dakari Johnson that takes place each day behind the closed doors of the Joe Craft training facility.
Johnson is every bit of 7-feet tall and 255 pounds. With his bruising style around the basket, Towns awarded Johnson with a nickname of his own: "The bear," he joked after taking numerous blows from Johnson throughout the scrimmage.
"He's a lovable bear, but not on the court," Towns said. "He's competitive and he comes hard every day. So he makes you have to bring your A-game every day too, but I enjoy it because it makes me a better player. It allows me to use my body more."
Even with the undeniable star power Towns brings to this 2014-15 Kentucky team, it's hard to look past the glow on his face when he starts to rave about his teammates. And with a team that is capable of going 12 deep into the rotation if necessary, there is plenty of praise to go around, especially with the depth on the interior.
"You've got three 7-footers. You've got Marcus Lee. You've got everybody around the rim," Towns said. "You really have to challenge yourself to even have the courage to go inside against all of us. But we make that a focal point as the big men that we protect the rim at all cost. And we make sure that the guards know that we have their back."
With such a loaded roster, especially in the frontcourt, it is typical for an incoming freshman to take a back seat to some of the veteran guys, but not Towns. His confidence in his own ability has him taking a much different approach to his first season as a Wildcat. He is focused on using this year as the ultimate learning experience.
"For us to have this opportunity to play at the University of Kentucky with so many great big guys, you're talking about the best in the whole nation in one gym all the time," Towns said. "Being able to learn from Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress, Trey Lyles, you're talking about a lot of different styles that you get to look at every day and try to utilize and implement their skills into your game too."
For those who know Towns, they will tell you he only wants to be great. When he committed to the Wildcats in December 2012, Towns announced his goal of becoming one of the all-time greats in the history of Kentucky's program. Obviously that is no easy task, but it is clear that the freshman big man is primed and ready for the spotlight.
Towns will begin to carve out his legacy on Sunday, Nov. 2, as the Cats take on Pikeville in their first exhibition at 7 p.m. ET in Rupp Arena.
Dakari Johnson had 13 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, two steals, and two blocks at Monday's Blue-White Scrimmage. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
By Connor Link, UK Athletics
For most teams, competitive is the last word one might use to describe a preseason intrasquad scrimmage.
But, as the record nine McDonald's All-Americans and 10 projected NBA Draft picks indicate, most teams aren't Kentucky.
"You know we have a lot of competitive guys on this team," said sophomore Dakari Johnson. "When you put us out on the court, we are going to compete against each other."
Instead of first- and second-string rotations, Kentucky features two "platoons" of talented lineups. Instead of six or seven players earning the lion's share of playing time, the Wildcats boast 12 athletes with a chance to see the floor this season. For reasons like these, the annual Blue-White Scrimmage was no different than the countless high-intensity practices that took place prior: competitive.
"It's just the beginning of the season," said Johnson. "We still have a lot of things to work on and get better at. We started off as a bunch of competitive guys, and that's a good start."
In a talent pool laden with NBA potential, Johnson was able to stand out among his peers Monday night. The 7-foot Brooklyn native finished with 13 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, two steals, and two blocks while logging minutes for both the Blue and White squads. Ironically enough, his teammates are some of the steepest competition Johnson is expected to face all season.
"Just knowing that you're going to come out with four other guys that have the same competitive spirit, know how to play, and are talented as you," Johnson said, "it's just going to be great."
Johnson spent most of his time battling on the low block with freshman big man Karl-Anthony Towns.
"(Guarding Johnson is) very difficult," Towns said. "He's a bear down there. He's a bruiser."
After declining the opportunity for a possible first-round selection in last June's NBA Draft, Johnson spent the summer improving his conditioning and basketball skill set in order to help the Wildcats reach the pinnacle this year of which they fell just short last season.
"I feel much lighter," Johnson said. "That's the main focus. The bigs have to run the floor, because when you play with point guards like Tyler (Ulis) and Andrew (Harrison), they'll get you the baskets if you run the floor."
Throughout the scrimmage, Johnson wowed fans with plays that he simply was not able to make a season ago.
"I feel like I'm moving way better than last year," Johnson said. "Just getting the weight off me helped me a lot. Not getting tired so fast has really helped me, too."
Head coach John Calipari echoed the 19-year-old's sentiment.
"He's playing with great energy," said Calipari. "I mean, he's going after every ball. He has a fight and a fire in him."
Though the Blue team defeated the White by an official score of 94-66, the scoreboard was reset to 0-0 with 11:36 remaining in the second half. It was during this time that Johnson left the White team and traded places with Towns, who was originally on the Blue. Johnson's new ensemble won the second contest, 29-22.
Even while encouraging spirited competition every day in practice, Calipari has instilled in his players that the ultimate team goal is for each student-athlete to improve as an individual.
"I enjoy (facing Johnson) every day because it makes me a better player," Towns said. "Playing against Dakari, (I) get to utilize some things and implement some things that he does so well on the post into my game. It can definitely change my game."
Johnson, who averaged 5.2 points and 3.9 rebounds and started 18 games for last season's national runner-up team, looks to make the most of Calipari's in-and-out two-platoon system every time he's on the floor.
"Every time I step on the court, I just want to play my hardest and just compete out there," Johnson said. "That's what (Monday) was."
"We've got to challenge each other every day to be the best human beings we can be, and the best basketball players we can be," Towns said. "Having Dakari around makes the job very challenging, but it makes it very deserving, very loving, and just very fun. (We're) fortunate to have him around and on the team."
Kyvin Goodin-Rogers heard the doctors saying how serious her condition was.
But lying in a hospital bed with her mother and Matthew Mitchell nearby, it had not quite sunk in. She was still thinking she'd be at practice the next day.
"Coach, he was there beside me, and I was like, 'Coach, I'll be there tomorrow,' and the doctor was like, 'No, you're not going to be playing,' " Goodin-Rogers said.
Last October, Goodin-Rogers, a 6-foot-1 forward, was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism and would need to go on blood-thinning medicine for the next several months to ensure her long-term health. Though that was the only reasonable decision, it meant her first season as a Kentucky player had ended before it began.
"Our doctors and the family decided to put her on blood thinners, which was the protocol that would try to guarantee her recovery and make sure that she didn't have any more problems or another one didn't occur, and so the moment she went on the blood thinners, her season was done," Mitchell said. "That was a tough day certainly for her."
It didn't stop being trying either, and Goodin-Rogers wasn't the only one affected.
Her new UK teammates had gotten to know her as a person and player over the summer and in fall practices and all of a sudden she was relegated to watching from the sideline. For Makayla Epps, who played with Goodin-Rogers at Marion County High School, it was particularly difficult.
"It put both of us down really bad," Epps said. "That's like my best friend. I've been with her for seven years and when I found that out it was real heartfelt for me. Like, I almost got real emotional about it. But we tried to keep her positive about it and all of that."
With the support of her teammates and coaches, Goodin-Rogers made the best of a bad situation.
"It was an eye-opening thing. Over the year I actually got more mentally tough about it. I took it more in a positive way than a negative way because everything happens for a reason."
It would have been easy for Goodin-Rogers to get down, especially when she learned a blood clot is a career-threatening condition for some high-level athletes, but she refused to think in those terms.
"No, never," Goodin-Rogers said, asked on UK Hoops media day whether she ever thought she'd played for the last time. "I knew I would play no matter what."
A year later, she's proven herself right.
Goodin-Rogers, a sophomore who will be eligible to apply for a medical redshirt, is poised to contribute when the Wildcats open the regular season on Nov. 14 against Appalachian State.
"Kyvin Goodin-Rogers has just bounced back from a very difficult freshman year with her health problems, and she looks really good right now and looks like a player we're going to be able to count on," Mitchell said.
Goodin-Rogers began building that confidence when she was officially cleared on April 28 after a battery of tests. Hours later, she was on the floor with her teammates playing in the most gratifying scrimmage of her life.
"It meant a lot because once you start going a few trips, I was like, 'Yeah, I still have this. I haven't lost anything,' " Goodin-Rogers said.
If you ask Epps, Goodin-Rogers has actually gained something. In a preseason scrimmage last weekend, Epps saw a player even better than the one rated a four-star prospect in high school.
"The kid hasn't played in a year and I was on the court with her and I love seeing her out there with me," Epps said. "And then when I was on the bench watching her, she was just going like she played last year. I was like, 'That's crazy. Like, you're amazing.' But she's back and I think she's better than she's ever been. Sitting out a year, that's just crazy. I can't wait to be out there with her for real."
After the scrimmage, there was one final hurdle for Goodin-Rogers to clear this week. She had to get through practice on the one-year anniversary of the day she reported chest pains to senior athletic trainer Courtney Jones.
"Yesterday, I was like, 'If I get past this day, I'm good. I'm going to play this season no matter what,' " Goodin-Rogers said.
That day behind her, Goodin-Rogers has moved her focus solely to preparing for the season. She's a potentially important piece for a UK frontcourt that lost stars DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker to graduation, laying the burden on the shoulders of seniors Azia Bishop and Jelleah Sidney, freshmen Alexis Rice and Alyssa Rice and Goodin-Rogers.
"We just need to keep working hard because we know how to play the game," Goodin-Rogers said. "It's just another game, another practice. We just gotta be mentally tough and prepared and know our positions."
Goodin-Rogers is a contender to start, but she's not overly concerned with that.
"I just want to be there for the team, do my part, do what I have to do, do my role to win games and do better," Goodin-Rogers said.
That's the perspective of a player who knows how much of a gift playing basketball is.
"I take every position more seriously than I ever have in my life," Goodin-Rogers said. "I'm just grateful to be back on the court and show what I have and (can) do, what I can for my teammates."
With only three former Cats picking up wins in the NFL's Week 8, seven UK alumni went home with losses. Nevertheless, a familiar face was able to extend his league-leading touchdown total, while one young player achieved a career milestone.
Another former Wildcat--Green Bay Packers punter Tim Masthay--saw no action on the field in his team's historic thrashing at the hands of the New Orleans Saints. Neither team recorded a single punt, marking the Packers' second such performance in four weeks, and only the third of its kind in NFL history.
Cats in the Spotlight
Randall Cobb | #18 WR | Green Bay Packers (5-3) Despite his team's 44-23 loss in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Randall Cobb came away with five catches for 126 yards and a 70-yard touchdown grab. Cobb's ninth touchdown of the season moved him into a tie for first place among all NFL receivers.
Avery Williamson | #54 ILB | Tennessee Titans (2-6) Juxtaposing his team's bumbling two-win 2014 campaign, Avery Williamson has continued to put together a sensational rookie season in terms of personal performance. The 6-foot-1 Tennessee native recorded a career-high 10 tackles and his first professional sack in the Titans' 30-16 loss to the Houston Texans.
Wesley Woodyard | #59 ILB | Tennessee Titans (2-6) Playing alongside Williamson on the Titans defense, Woodyard assisted in two tackles and logged four more of his own. Woodyard has combined for 49 total tackles on the season.
As a college basketball player, Jennifer O'Neill has just about done it all.
Three Sweet 16s. Two Elite-Eights. A Southeastern Conference title. A 43 points on national TV in a football stadium. The list goes on and on.
But for the UK guard, plenty remains to be done. And she's put in a lot of time and effort to reach new heights in her last season at UK.
A player of O'Neill's stature -- having among other stellar credentials wowed a national audience with that school-record scoring performance in AT&T Stadium last season -- could be forgiven for lacking motivation. Yet given the work the senior has been putting in building up to the 2014-15 season, inspiration doesn't seem to be in short supply.
The fire that burns inside O'Neill is unique to her.
"So much motivates me," O'Neill said. "Definitely my mom, who set the bar high. My family, I want to be an example to my younger siblings and cousins. I read a quote that said, 'Work hard in silence and let your success speak for itself.'
"That's my mindset. I'm not worried about what people have to say about me, what people think about me. If I know what I'm doing, and I know I'm doing the right thing then I have nothing to worry about."
For her part O'Neill has always put in plenty of time in pursuit of improvement, but four years into her journey as a college basketball player, she has a more effective and efficient practice routine.
"When I first got here I was really out of shape, so I worked on my fitness and nutrition," O'Neill said. "I started taking it seriously and understanding when I was able to eat certain things at what time. Not counting calories, but really watching what I ate, when I ate it, at the time I ate it and stuff like that.
"Now I really work on my mechanics. Little things I could do to get better. As far as footwork, making sure how my follow-through goes so my wrist isn't twisted to the side. I'm constantly working with the coaches as much as possible. I get as many shots up as I can. Really that's it, just my mechanics and technique is what I'm working on right now."
As a player O'Neill can always work on her game, but as a senior expected to play substantial minutes, she could also be called on to assume a leadership role.
The role of veteran leader is a bit novel to O'Neill, but it's one she has already started growing into.
"I talk a lot more now," O'Neill said. "Sometimes I get quiet and I don't even realize it until Matthew (Mitchell) says things or my teammates say something. I'm definitely talking a lot more than I ever have since I've been here.
"I'm trying to lead by example by really showing my teammates what they need to do in order to get better. It's something I didn't do my freshman year."
While O'Neill may not have initially been comfortable showing the way to her teammates, some of the UK Hoops newcomers have taken notice of O'Neill's influence early this year.
"Players like Jennifer O'Neill have taken me under their wing," freshman Alexis Jennings said. "She's made me feel like I'm sisters with everyone on the team already. She's been here a while, and I can count on her to give it to me straight. Every practice she encourages me."
Indeed O'Neill's embrace of a role as a mentor was likely outside her comfort zone, but it's indicative of the attitude she's taken on since arriving at UK.
"I've grown up a lot; I've learned a lot," O'Neill said. "I've been exposed to a lot of knowledge from coaches. They have just passed their knowledge down to me and just showed me what I needed to do. How I need to improve."
Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns battle for a loose ball at Monday's Blue-White Scrimmage. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
John Calipari moved to the opposite of the court for most of Monday's Blue-White Scrimmage, taking a seat next to his wife and leaving his assistants to do the work on the bench.
He couldn't help but interject on occasion, but he spent most of his time watching his two platoons go head to head.
It was in those moments as an observer that he realized just how unique a coaching challenge he's created for himself. The thing is, he's created the same challenge for his peers.
"The issues I'm going to have, the other coach is going to have, too," Calipari said.
Given the opportunity, any opposing coaches who happened to tune in to UK's annual preseason scrimmage surely would trade places with Coach Cal.
Kentucky's unmatched depth was on display, with seven players scoring in double figures. Devin Booker led the way with 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting, while Andrew Harrison had 19 for the Blue team, which came away with a 94-66 victory.
Though the final score wasn't close, this edition of the Blue-White Scrimmage was a departure from years past.
"I think we all could see that we were all really competing hard at each other and acting like it was a Louisville-Kentucky game, but it was against each other," said Karl-Anthony Towns, who impressed with 18 points and nine rebounds. "We really went hard at each other, but we had a lot of fun. I definitely had fun. I really enjoyed today and I just can't wait to play with the other team on our team."
"The other team on our team." That serves to illustrate what the Cats will try to do when they're all wearing the same color uniform.
For the better part of three months now, Coach Cal has been preparing his team to play the two-platoon system. Nonetheless, he can't be sure from games on UK's Big Blue Bahamas tour, practices or the scrimmage exactly what it's going to be like to coach the system when he doesn't have free rein to reset the score with 11:30 remaining as he did on Monday.
"I don't know," Calipari said. "We're going to find out. We haven't done it yet. Today we just played a bunch of guys."
Slightly more thought went into it than that.
The Blue team -- before Cal switched up the squads -- was comprised of Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Trey Lyles, Willie Cauley-Stein and Towns. White's starters were Tyler Ulis, Booker, Alex Poythress, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson. Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins split time between the two teams.
"You want to have a point guard on each group," Calipari said. "You want to have some size on each group. And how do they fit together?"
Experience is also a consideration.
"I'll probably try some different combos," Calipari said. "I kind of like two freshmen on a team, three vets on a team. It gives it some balance."
With all the thought Calipari is putting into the composition of the two platoons, the players are steering clear of concerning themselves with who belongs on which team. They're just playing.
"The combinations we don't worry about," Towns said. "We just worry about going out there and doing everything we need to do to get a W. That's not our job. Our job is to go out there and execute the plan Coach Calipari gives us."
The plan is clear, though the particulars are still a work in progress. There's no manual for what UK is about to try.
"We're just going to see what happens," Calipari said. "I mean, I'm committed to it. It's the best thing for these players. Now we got to make it the best thing for our team."
Neal Brown was just finishing his breakdown of Kentucky's loss to top-ranked Mississippi State.
The Wildcats had come up just short in a hard-fought defeat, but Brown praised the way UK battled.
"We're close," Brown said. "We gotta continue to get better. We gotta find a way to get number six."
Six wins, of course, is a significant number. In college football, it means bowl eligibility. For a UK program that hasn't appeared in a bowl game since the 2010 season and won a total of just four games in the previous two years, reaching postseason play would be significant.
Even so, that's not what the UK coaches are talking about when they mention number six.
"I don't think that's the reason why we need to go get number six, even though we know the value in it," Stoops said. "I think the reason we need to get number six is because we're sitting on five."
Kentucky's next shot at that sixth win will come on the road against Missouri at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday. The Tigers (6-2, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) are in the thick of the race for the SEC Eastern Division title after winning it a season ago.
"Look at what they did last year, sitting here 6 2, and they probably feel a lot like us, in that they haven't played their best yet," Stoops said. "You know, they're a very good team. They've won, they've been there before, they're an experienced group, especially as a coaching staff." Special teams improved in defeat
UK's final play on special teams against Mississippi State wasn't pretty.
Down 38-31 after Patrick Towles ran for his second touchdown with 2:31 left, the Cats lined up for an onside kick. The try went directly to Christian Holmes, who promptly sprinted 61 yards for the game-clinching touchdown.
The play, however, doesn't come close to defining UK's overall performance on Saturday.
"Special teams responded extremely well," Stoops said. "I thought the guys competed and played very good this last week."
On the heels of a loss as LSU in which special teams were largely responsible for a big halftime deficit, UK's specialists were solid.
Following kickoffs, UK started on its own 21.9-yard line on average, while MSU started on its 23.6, not counting the onside kick. In the punting game, Landon Foster kicked six times for an average of 47.8 yards, three times pinning the Bulldogs inside the 20 and allowing just three return yards. His net punting average of 47.3 was two yards better than Devon Bell's for MSU.
"The kickoffs were great, the kickoff kicker it was ridiculous how high and how well he kicked the ball so that makes it extremely difficult but across the board I thought the guys responded," Stoops said. "None of us were happy with the week before. We know that's not acceptable. Coach (Craig) Naivar knows that and our players but we have all had our moments this year, offense and defense and special teams where we have not done our part."
Ground game a work in progress
UK has always been a running-back-by-committee kind of team this season, but never has that been clearer than on Monday.
On Kentucky's updated depth chart, Braylon Heard, Jojo Kemp, Mikel Horton and Stanley "Boom" Williams are listed with "or" between each.
It's a departure from previous weeks, when Heard and Kemp were listed jointly, but practice this week won't be any different.
"It's been like it has been," Stoops said. "Not much has changed. We need to continue to work some of those guys in."
Against Mississippi State, Horton carried just once after playing well at LSU. Expect to see more of the big freshman at Missouri.
"We had plans last week with Mikel (Horton) and then he goes in and fumbles the first play and that rattles your confidence a little bit," Stoops said. "We've talked about that, we can't let it. We need to get him back in there and get him playing and we will. Mikel has worked his way into the rotation and he needs to get in there."
If all goes according to plan, the same will be true for Williams. The dynamic freshman missed the Mississippi State game with a head injury, but is expected to return this week.
"He should be fine," Stoops said. "Let's hope he doesn't have any setbacks. He was very close (last week) and I don't want to get into all that, technically he probably could have played but we didn't want to."
No matter who lines up in the backfield, UK needs to improve in the ground game. Over the last two weeks, Wildcat running backs have combined for just 82 yards on 29 carries, though a lot of that has to do with tough LSU and Mississippi State defenses.
"We're still trying to be the team that we want to be," Stoops said. "We're not there yet. We want to be a team that's balanced."
Senior Day set for noon kick
Television selections for games on Nov. 8 were announced on Monday and Kentucky's home finale vs. Georgia will kick off at noon ET. ESPN will broadcast the game.
Patrick Towles had 477 total yards and four touchdowns in UK's loss to Mississippi State on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Patrick Towles has never lacked confidence, but even the sophomore quarterback admitted he was shaken in a loss at LSU last weekend.
His steady hand, though in a losing effort, was back on Saturday against Mississippi State.
"I really just went after it," Towles said. "There was kind of a whole timidness down in Baton Rouge with the whole offense that was absent today. We ran into a really, really good football team who's going to win a lot of football games."
That football team - which happens to be ranked No. 1 in the country -- was too much for Kentucky to handle, in spite of a valiant effort by the Wildcats. In a back and forth battle that saw the Bulldogs (7-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) deliver multiple blows likely to spell the end for UK, the Cats (5-3, 2-3 SEC) kept battling back before falling, 45-31.
"We got beat by a better football team," head coach Mark Stoops said. "Give Mississippi State credit. They're a very good, strong, tough football team. Deserving of the No. 1 ranking that they have. I appreciate our team's effort. We did not play well enough to win, to beat the No. 1 team in the country."
Whether Towles played well enough individually to beat the No. 1 team in the country is up for debate.
His statistics were eye-popping. Combining his 390 yards passing, 76 yards rushing and one reception for 11 yards, Towles had a hand in all but 27 of the 504 yards the Cats gained in playing what Neal Brown called his signal caller's best game.
"Patrick competed," Brown said. "He competed. Really excited about how he raised his level. He's had two weeks where--Monroe he played so-so, last week not very well and to bounce back against the No. 1 team in the country."
He also did against the player many consider to be the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy.
Towles, at least in the box score, out-produced Mississippi State's Dak Prescott with 477 total yards, four touchdowns and zero turnovers to his counterpart's 304 total yards, three touchdowns and one interception, though he was hardly concerned about that.
"I'm worried about the defense and our defense is worried about him," Towles said. "I was worried about winning the football game and we didn't get that done."
Towles was hell-bent on leading his team to a win, and every fan among the 64,791 in attendance at Commonwealth Stadium could see it plainly.
"It's a mindset you have to have every game: Go out there, do everything you can to win," Towles said. "Whatever Coach Brown or Coach Stoops asks of me, it's my job to do whatever I can to win the football game."
On this night, Towles was called on to carry the load not only in the passing game, but also as a runner. Disregarding the 47 yards he lost on six sacks, Towles ran 17 times for 123 yards and two touchdowns as UK's backs were able to find little room against the defensive front seven Brown called the best the Cats have faced all season.
"We got some good looks, good ideas watching their film," Towles said of his role in the run game. "They're kind of susceptible to it and those looks kind of carried over, obviously, to the game. So it worked early so we kept doing it."
In the passing game, Towles showed no signs of wear from the hits he took running the ball. He completed 24-of-43 passes for a career-high 390 yards and two touchdowns, including a couple plays that made his offensive coordinator's jaw drop.
"There's some 'wow' throws," Brown said. "That throw he threw to Javess Blue, that's a wow throw. ... He's got big-time arm talent."
The pass to Blue was certainly worthy of a "wow."
After Mississippi State scored with 4:44 left in the third quarter to claim a 31-17 lead, Towles dropped back three plays later and delivered a strike that traveled more than 40 yards in the air and his Blue in stride, leading to a 58-yard touchdown.
"We got a good look," Towles said. "The safety rotated wide and Javess was able to split them. I put out there and he was able to run under it."
Drops were an issue at times for UK's wideouts, but they made plenty of plays for Towles too, perhaps most notably one that came in the first quarter.
Down 7-0, Towles threw downfield to Demarco Robinson along the right sideline. In one motion, the senior jumped to snare the ball and shook two defenders before sprinting for a 67-yard score. All the while, he tip-toed the out-of-bounds line so closely the officials had to review the play to make sure he stayed in.
"Great play," Towles said. "Great play after the catch. I kind of threw him a little bit too far inside. He made two people miss and took off. He's a great player. We're lucky to have him."
Towles had plenty of big plays in him the rest of the way, but he never could get the Cats over the top.
Once in the third quarter and again in the fourth, UK took over trailing by only a touchdown after a defensive stop. The two drives were the Cats' only two three-and-outs of the second half.
"We just didn't make plays," Towles said. "That's the whole thing tonight. We got opportunities to make plays but we didn't."
Even after a career night, Towles was hard on himself. Along those same lines, Brown took encouragement from the fact that there were simple ways Towles could have played better.
"He was a decision here, a decision there from having a really big day," Brown said. "And the thing that's he's gotta learn is--and listen I'm proud of him, this is the best he's played so I'm nitpicking here, but he's gotta take what's easy. Take what's easy and not try to force the big play."
If Towles and the Cats improve the way they know they can, they might come away the victor the next time UK plays in a high-profile matchup such as this one. For now, the Cats will have to take some solace in the way they bounced back from that LSU loss.
"We knew that we could play with anybody in the country," Towles said. "I'm not sure the country knew that we could play with anybody in the country, but we fought like knew we would."
By no means is that enough.
"It's nice to see the improvement, for sure, but we're not happy with the way the game came out," Towles said. "We're in the business of winning football games, not competing in football games. So we'll get better and we'll get after Missouri on Saturday."
On Thursday, Mark Stoops spoke to the media for the final time before Kentucky's matchup with Mississippi State.
Once again, the UK coaching staff left the practice field happy with the Wildcats' work.
"Guys have been good all week," Stoops said. "We've had good energy and good practices, so hopefully we'll get a few mistakes cleaned up. Seems like we have, and looking forward to a great game here Saturday."
A great game and, if Stoops is right, a great atmosphere as well.
Asked about the opportunity to play against the nation's top-ranked team at home, Stoops repeated that he's excited to take the field in front of a big crowd at Commonwealth Stadium.
"Well, I think we're starting to create a great environment at home and we're looking forward to that, so obviously, always a lot nicer playing at home than at some of these venues in the SEC," Stoops said. "It's pretty challenging. So hopefully we'll get some good home-field advantage and it will help us."
Mississippi State's ranking has added to the anticipation for Saturday's game on the part of fans, but the No. 1 next to the Bulldogs' name only means so much to coaches and players.
"A big game's a big game," Stoops said. "You kind of feel it in the air and the energy and the practice and the focus, so they're really all big games. Once you get to the point where we're doing what we're doing and trying to win a bunch of games, then they're all important. We've got a tough stretch and this is our next one."
Patrick Towles and Kentucky will look to bounce back from a loss at LSU against No. 1 Mississippi State on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Kentucky's loss at LSU stung, no doubt.
The Wildcats, for the first time all season, simply weren't competitive in a blowout in Baton Rouge, which turned out to be even more painful than being one play away as they were in a defeat at Florida.
That said, Patrick Towles wasn't about to let the loss linger. He knew the Cats had to get over it.
"It took me about a day," UK's sophomore quarterback said. "It hurt for about a day. Then if it keeps hurting, you gotta play a different sport."
Towles and his teammates are sticking with football, and it's a good thing because the nation's top-ranked team is coming to Lexington this weekend. UK (5-2, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) will host No. 1 Mississippi State (6-0, 3-0 SEC) at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday in front of a CBS audience watching at home.
"They've had some impressive wins and they're playing outstanding football," head coach Mark Stoops said. "We're looking to improve this week and eliminate some mistakes if we're going to go out there and compete with a great Mississippi State team."
Calling Mississippi State's wins "impressive" may be somewhat of an understatement. The Bulldogs, No. 1 for the first time in school history as of Oct. 12, became just the fifth team ever to topple three straight top-10 opponents by taking down No. 2 Auburn on Oct. 11 on the heels of wins over No. 6 Texas A&M and No. 8 LSU.
As Stoops said, the Cats have improving to do to compete with a team the likes of Mississippi State. Correcting mistakes has been a priority in practice this week, but Stoops is just as focused on his team's confidence after its first and only lopsided loss of 2014.
"I told you, other times, speaking to you and to our team, we've gotten beyond the belief, then it's about execution and doing things and then we go out and don't do it very well, so now we got to make sure they don't slip back and start doubting," Stoops said. "And it goes back to preparation and work and controlling the things we can control."
By all accounts, the Cats have handled their business in preparing for Mississippi State, striking a balance between learning from their mistakes and moving on from them.
"I think there's a lot of learning points, especially where we're at," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "If we had a veteran team, hey, we may have came in and not even watched the video. Really. And just said, hey, we're better than that, let's go. But I think where we're at, especially on offense, we've got to learn from those mistakes, or you repeat them."
The Bulldogs, so far this season, have specialized in forcing miscues by their opponents.
Having built leads of at least 20 points in all six games this season, Mississippi State has had to defend the pass an inordinate amount this season. Consequently, the Bulldogs are last in the league in pass defense, allowing 308.3 yards per game. On the flip side, the Bulldogs are second in the SEC in both sacks and interceptions per game.
"They'll have the best front seven that we've played all year," Towles said. "They're strong. They're the No. 1 team in the country, so they're really good everywhere. We've gotta be sharp, be disciplined and pay attention to details to succeed."
Attention to detail might be even more important on the other side of the ball for Kentucky.
There, the Cats will have to contend with Heisman Trophy frontrunner Dak Prescott. The junior quarterback has been nothing short of dominant, ranking second in the SEC in total offense and fifth in rushing yards. He's accounting for an average of 23.0 points per game -- third nationally -- with his 14 passing touchdowns, eight rushing scores and one receiving touchdown.
"He's as talented of a guy as there is in the country," Stoops said. "He can run it, he can throw it. He's making great decisions and their offense puts stress on you."
That stress, more than anything else, stems from Mississippi State's incredible offensive balance.
The Bulldogs are first in the SEC and No. 10 nationally in total offense at 529.7 yards per game, and they do their damage running and passing in nearly exactly equal measure. Mississippi State has piled up an average of 264.3 yards on the ground and 265.3 through the air.
"That's a credit to what they're doing schematically and a credit to their coaching staff and obviously a very talented group," Stoops said. "I guess it's fair to say it's a little bit unlike anybody we've seen in recent history here. So very balanced and like I said, they present a lot of problems because they can certainly be as physical as they want to be but also have the ability to spread you out and throw it around, too."
In spite of the challenges Mississippi State will present on both sides of the ball, Stoops knows little else will matter if the Cats don't come ready to play.
"I think because we got whupped and because we made some mental mistakes, sometimes that can shake somebody's confidence, and we'll see how they respond," Stoops said. "I have no reason to believe that, though. I have a good feel we'll bounce back and prepare well and play well."