Cat Scratches
Interactive Twitter Facebook

Recently in football Category

Patrick Towles had one of the best starting debuts for a quarterback in UK history on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Patrick Towles had one of the best starting debuts for a quarterback in UK history on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Two years ago, a second-quarter 71-yard touchdown drive led by then-true freshman Patrick Towles impressed a fan base desperate for excitement in the midst of a disappointing season.

On Saturday he showed his talent in broader strokes as he turned in one of the best statistical debuts by a UK starter of the last 20 years.

Towles' 377 yards on 20-of-29 passing with one passing and one rushing touchdown gave him a 189.5 passer rating.

The line was on par with fellow Air Raid signal-callers Dusty Bonner (34-62, 446 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT) and Jared Lorenzen (22-34, 322 yards, 3 TD, 3 INT) in terms of yardage. His performance was certainly better in terms of efficiency.

"I was very pleased with Patrick," Mark Stoops said. "Very happy for him. The big thing was, to me, he was very poised and he made very good decisions.  You know, we know he has the talent to get the ball down the field.  I think it was important for him to be efficient in the intermediate area and I thought he did that." 

And yet Towles' first start will also be compared with his previous Commonwealth Stadium outing.

"Two years ago was kind of a flash in a pan in terms of having a good first series against Mississippi State before getting injured," Towles said. "It was important to come out today and play clean to build a solid foundation for the rest of the season. Two years ago certainly gave me confidence in terms of playing in front of the Commonwealth Stadium crowd."

The drive in 2012 brought an injury-plagued Kentucky team within a touchdown of then-No. 20 Mississippi State, but more importantly showed the Big Blue Nation the hype around a former Gatorade Kentucky High School Player of the Year was justified.

This UK Athletics Department staff member won't forget tending to the CWS press box phone that day and taking calls from every major sports network on such basic questions as, "How do you pronounce Towles?"

But the excitement was quickly tempered.

Towles suffered an ankle injury on the ensuing drive and played sparingly the rest of a 2-10 season.

And then Towles did not play during Mark Stoops' first season at UK. Going into new staff's second season, the redshirt sophomore had to win a quarterback competition over formidable teammates Reese Phillips, Drew Barker and the experienced Maxwell Smith.

After winning the starting job, Towles entered UK's season opener looking to live up to a world of expectations given his performance in camp and his high school pedigree, not to mention the brief moment of brilliance he showed two autumns ago.

Saturday, facing an opponent admittedly not up to the level UK will face in Southeastern Conference play, Towles delivered on what his 2012 cameo appearance promised.

"Y'all know Patrick ... he doesn't lack for confidence, which is a good thing," UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "That's a good thing. He thinks he can make every throw and he thinks he can make every run. That's exactly what you're looking for. I knew he was going to be ready to play."

Towles quarterbacked the UK offense to the fourth-best performance in terms of total offense (656 yards) in school history.

His game featured a 79-yard completion to Demarco Robinson on a first down from his own 13-yard line and a 22-yard touchdown run as highlights.

Towles' offensive coordinator and position coach was confident the player he placed faith in during the preseason would deliver, especially given the way recent practices had gone.

"On Wednesday he had his best practice that's he's probably ever--I know that he's had since I've been coaching, he had his best practice," Brown said. "Decision-making, throwing the ball. I sent him a text that next morning after I watched it and told him that same thing."
 
But Towles didn't enter the game completely assured of success.

"I was very nervous," Towles said. "I didn't get much sleep last night. I got some sleep, but not as much I would have liked to. I was just ready to go, I wanted to get out there and start playing.

If anything Brown was most impressed by his quarterback's response to adversity. After a turnover on downs to open the game, and some bad decisions early in the second half, Towles showed resilience.

The plays he made in response showed Brown he can depend on his quarterback when the competition gets tougher in coming weeks.

"The most important thing is he came out, first drive of the second half, and made two poor decisions," Brown said. "Made two poor decisions, then he came back the very next series and made two big plays. That's the thing: Bounce back.

"We've had this next-play attitude. That's what we talked about leading up to this game and I told you I preach it to myself more than those guys. But he did. He came out, had a bad series, bounced back, had a real positive series, had a nice run for a touchdown."

Looking back on his first start in a UK jersey, Towles' report card was good. But tougher tests remain.

"I felt like I did well as a whole," the UK starter said. "There were a couple bad decisions that were made by me but as you saw, I did what coach has been wanting me to and that was coming out in the next series and making two good decisions that canceled out my bad ones."

Towles certainly built off his previous CWS appearance on Saturday. The feat is not to be taken lightly given the excitement generated by his previous cameo.

And yet next week's test against a more competitive opponent in Ohio could go a longer way in showing UK's long-term outlook, if not just for the 2014 season.

Braylon Heard carried twice for 116 yards and two touchdowns in UK's 59-14 win on Saturday. (Elliott Hess, UK Athletics) Braylon Heard carried twice for 116 yards and two touchdowns in UK's 59-14 win on Saturday. (Elliott Hess, UK Athletics)
Throughout fall camp, Mark Stoops and his staff have preached the importance of making the simple play and executing assignments.

Braylon Heard's first two carries in a Kentucky uniform looked anything but simple.

The Nebraska transfer took the first 73 yards for a touchdown, sprinting through a big hole and slowing down only to make sure no UT Martin defenders were on his heels. They weren't.

On the next, less than four minutes of game time later, he found another seam and went 43 yards for another score.

The plays will surely end up on UK's highlight reel at the end of the season. And of course, they speak to the talent of the player who made them.

That doesn't mean they weren't perfect illustrations of what the staff has been saying.

"The two runs he had that he broke were extremely disciplined runs," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said.  "... The thing that's going to be encouraging to me is we turn on the video tomorrow and here's Braylon doing the thing exactly the way we coach it. Exactly, to a T, the way we coach it. Boom, big play."

Heard was far from the only Wildcat to make big plays on Saturday. All told, UK had nine offensive plays of 20 yards or more in a dominant season-opening 59-14 victory, not to mention the defense's two interceptions and three fumble recoveries, one of which Khalid Henderson returned 89 yards for a touchdown.

In reflecting on the win, though, Stoops didn't marvel at his team's newfound game-breaking potential. Asked what single thing stood out to him about UK's performance, he gave an answer that was characteristically simple.

"Really just clean," Stoops said. "I think they were just--it was relatively clean."

The fans at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday left singing a slightly different tune.

After all, they had just seen the influx of talent that Stoops has brought to Lexington back up the hype bestowed on it by recruiting services more than at any point since the second-year head coach's arrival.

They watched Heard -- limited to two carries by an ankle injury that knocked him out of the game for precautionary reasons -- led a ground game that rolled up 243 yards and six touchdowns on 28 carries. They cheered a young receiving corps that caught deep balls and turned short passes into long gains in equal measure, just as true freshman Blake Bone did on a screen pass that became a 29-yard touchdown.

"Definitely impressed," quarterback Patrick Towles said of the receiving corps. "The ball I threw to Blake that he scored on was behind. That should have been farther in front, but he made a really good play. The receivers all around played awesome."

Towles, starting for the first time at Kentucky, deftly ran the show. He completed 20-of-29 passes for 377 yards and a touchdown, adding 30 yards and another score on the ground.

"The big thing was, to me, he was very poised and he made very good decisions," Stoops said. "You know, we know he has the talent to get the ball down the field. I think it was important for him to be efficient in the intermediate area and I thought he did that. He missed a couple, but overall, just very pleased with his poise."

Towles was in Lexington before Stoops' arrival, but he's in the minority among UK's top offensive contributors. Players recruited to Kentucky by the current staff accounted for 529 of the Cats' 656 yards from scrimmage.

"I was very pleased with the young guys in general," Stoops said. "You can see the ability of some of the guys that we've been talking about, all the freshmen running backs, the freshmen wide receivers looked very poised out there and made some good plays."

That poise has everything to do with preparation, says running back Mikel Horton.

"I don't even think our coaches look it like freshmen being played because how prepared we are," said Horton, who carried seven times for 45 yards and two touchdowns. "Each freshmen, each senior, sophomore , junior are very prepared and each can rotate in and know the plays. I don't even look at it as freshman anymore. I look at us as players. When you're well prepared and you don't have a class on you, you can go in and handle your business."

UK's defense didn't rely quite as heavily on newcomers, but its biggest star on Saturday suited up in blue for the first time.

Safety A.J. Stamps has drawn raves all offseason from Stoops and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot. The first-year junior-college transfer didn't wait long to back up the talk.

After Heard scored his first touchdown late in the first quarter to give UK a 14-0 lead, Stamps came flying into the backfield on the first play of the ensuing UT Martin drive. Before Ladevin Fair could hardly see him, Stamps flipped him into the air with a big hit for a three-yard loss.

"A.J.'s a very talented player and I've said all along he's been a great addition to our defense," Eliot said. "He's a very athlete, a very good football player, but he's also a good leader and he's got a lot of good instincts."

Those instincts showed up again on the Skyhawks' next drive. Reading a deep ball by UT Martin's Dylan Favre, Stamps sped over and snared the pass with his right hand, making a play sure to be seen again on the SportsCenter Top 10.

"Everybody said I could have made it with two," Stamps said. "But hey, one hand looked better."

Stamps -- who finished with a team high-tying eight tackles -- clearly had some fun on Saturday. He wasn't alone.

"This is the most fun I've had in a football game since (November) of 2012, probably," Brown said, recalling a text message he sent after the game. "And here's the thing: It's been fun all camp. It really has. I've had a good time. I appreciate the way our guys have worked, how they've prepared."

During camp, Brown joked about the gray hairs he's spouting coaching so many youngsters. In a good mood on Saturday following a big win, he talked about the flip side of coaching an up-and-coming group.

"These guys really want to be good," Brown said. "Our talent's getting better. We haven't arrived by any means, but our talent's getting better. They're eager, really eager to do well and they've been a fun group to coach. Not just myself, our whole offensive staff. We really enjoy coaching this group and I really think you're going to see continued growth as we go along."

On Saturday evening, UK released the following statement on cheerleader Brooke Gibbs, who was was injured after a fall on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.

Brooke Gibbs, a sophomore on the UK Cheer team, has been treated and released from UK Chandler Hospital following a fall during the 4th quarter of Kentucky Football's victory over UT Martin. Brooke, her family and the cheer program are appreciative of the efforts and expertise of the athletic trainers, team doctors and paramedics who cared for her at the stadium, as well as the doctors, nurses and staff at the hospital. She has heard of the outpouring of thoughts, prayers and concerns from the Big Blue Nation and can't wait to get back on the field with her teammates and the football team soon.

Video: Post-UT Martin video interviews

| No TrackBacks | Add a Comment
Head coach Mark Stoops


Offensive coordinator Neal Brown


Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot


A.J. Stamps, Braylon Heard, Ryan Timmons, Patrick Towles, Dorian Baker and Mikel Horton


Live blog: Football vs. UT Martin

| No TrackBacks | Add a Comment
Live Blog Football vs. UT Martin
 

It was Kentucky's habit a season ago to hold one final full practice on Thursday of game week before a lighter practice on Friday.

Mark Stoops is flipping the script in his second season.

"We're actually changing things up this year," Stoops said. "We're going very light and minimal on Thursdays. We're going to go fast on Fridays. It's a little different changeup."

The thinking is that the new schedule will allow the Wildcats to be at their best on game day. By the time Saturday rolled around a season ago, players had gone 48 hours without going full speed. By moving the recovery day earlier in the week and a more intense practice later, Stoops anticipates the Cats will be primed to play fast against UT Martin this weekend.

Though the move is a departure, it's not unprecedented. Stoops cited Oregon as one of a handful of college teams to make the change.

"There's plenty of other schools who have done this and so we did a little study in the offseason and looked at it and it's just another part of the plan to play faster," Stoops said.

With the nervous energy around the Nutter Training Center these days with the season opener so close at hand, players aren't likely to mind the chance to fly around on Friday.

"Just anxious to get going," Stoops said. "I think the players are anxious. Just seems like the summer went extremely fast, but this week seems a little bit slow. We're ready to get out there and tee it up and get playing."

UK football season opener pump-up video

| No TrackBacks | Add a Comment

Consistency UK's aim in opening 2014 season

| No TrackBacks | Add a Comment
Patrick Towles will make his college starting debut in UK's season opener on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Patrick Towles will make his college starting debut in UK's season opener on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Last Monday, Mark Stoops summoned Patrick Towles into his office.

After briefly letting Towles hang out to dry, the second-year head coach told the Fort Thomas, Ky., native he had won Kentucky's long-running quarterback battle.

Considering Towles had spent most of his football-playing life working toward the moment, the celebration that followed was more short-lived than you might expect.

"Obviously I got the nod, I'm excited about that," Towles said. "It's what I've always wanted, but that's over with now. I've gotta worry about playing Tennessee Martin on Saturday."

Once he was named the starter, Towles went from competition to preparation for UK's season opener at noon ET on Saturday. The transition has been relatively seamless, mostly because Towles hasn't really changed his approach. In the huddle, he's the same guy.

Of course there's some extra adrenaline flowing, but he's still managing to stay on an even keel.

"It's hard, but I'm excited," Towles said. "You know that you have to get prepared for the game and you can't be all excited and your mind going everywhere and 25 different places during practice or else you're not going to get anything productive done."

Adopting that mentality, Towles following the lead of his head coach.

"I think just try to stay as normal as possible," Mark Stoops said. "He doesn't need to put any more undue pressure on himself. The whole team needs to play well. I expect that he will be a little bit antsy, I'm sure, like you said. But he's just got to calm down and stay within himself and operate the offense."

Though Towles will certainly have the most eyes on him come Saturday, he really isn't much different than most of his teammates. The Wildcats a team full of players who must fill roles for the team to succeed, regardless whether they're the Southeastern Conference's active sack leader like Bud Dupree or a true freshman like Blake Bone, Stanley "Boom" Williams or Matt Elam.

"We've improved," Stoops said. "Our football team has worked hard. We'll see where we're at. I know we're going to play better. It will be good to see these young guys get out there and play, see how we've improved, see the veterans, guys like Bud and (Za'Darius Smith), see them come out and see how much they've improved."

For the first time since 2007, a home crowd will be able to see UK's offseason improvement firsthand. With eight true freshmen, six redshirt freshmen and three first-year junior-college transfers on the two-deep depth chart, Stoops knows UK can't afford to squander the opportunity to get off to a quick start.

"I know our fans are ready to go," Stoops said. "We need to do our part. I know we'll have great support. We need to go out there and start fast and play good football, play with great energy, play with great discipline, make it exciting for the fans."

Neal Brown is thinking the same thing.

After implementing his version of the Air Raid last season through fits and starts, the second-year offensive coordinator says the Cats are already ahead of where they were a season ago in terms of tempo. UK is far from a finished product, but Brown believes fans will see his group has made significant strides.

"I want to make sure that we're not playing so fast that we're hurting ourselves, you know?" Brown said. "But we're in a position now, going into our second fall, that we're able to play really fast when we need to. And 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."

UK's offense will contend with a UT Martin defense led by All-American linebacker Tony Bell. Bell led the Ohio Valley Conference with 10.5 sacks and 15 tackles for less.

"They have a great defensive player, No. 40, the linebacker, an exceptional player," Stoops said. "He's a really good football player. He can play anywhere in the country. Really like the way he plays. Like I said, I think they're a well-coached team. They're very multiple on both sides of the ball, can do a lot of things."

With an offseason for UT Martin head coach Jason Simpson to make changes, Stoops knows better than to try to predict what he'll see from the Skyhawks on Saturday. It's a good thing, then, that his primary objective for Saturday is all about his own team.

"We've got to go play well and be consistent," Stoops said. "We're not good enough to make simple mistakes and shoot ourselves in the foot, turn the ball over, things like that obviously. We want to be very consistent. We want to pick up our tempo offensively and continue to grow and move the ball like we want to move the ball.
 
"Defensively, again, be more consistent. We need to get more turnovers. We certainly need to get more interceptions."
 

Front seven taking shape as opener approaches

| No TrackBacks | Add a Comment

If the Wildcats are nervous as the final days pass before Kentucky's season opener against UT Martin, it isn't showing in practice.

It was another day of productive work for UK on Wednesday.

"We had a good practice today," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "Guys were into it, focused, getting better fundamentally and ready to play."

Ready to play and mostly healthy. Outside of wide receivers Jeff Badet (eye) and Alexander Montgomery (recovery from knee surgery), UK is expected to be at full strength at noon ET on Saturday.

"We're right where we thought we'd be," Eliot said. "Everybody's ready to go. Everybody's geared up and ready for the game and we won't miss a beat."

That includes star senior Bud Dupree, who made it through fall camp even though he was prevented from doing his favorite thing: hitting the quarterback.

"It's horrible having the quarterbacks in red jerseys and having to stop on a play, stop before you can get to them and stopping on offensive linemen sometimes," Dupree said. "Sometimes you want to go through the linemen and just hit them but you know you can't."

The Southeastern Conference's active sack leader only has to wait three more days before getting a shot at an opposing quarterback, and he'll do it both standing and with his hand in the dirt. Dupree will play defensive end opposite Za'Darius Smith in UK's 4-3 set and linebacker when the Cats go 3-4.

"The 3-4 is great for showing athleticism and keeping as many good guys on the field as you can, as well as having big edge setters too," Dupree said.

In the starting 3-4 look, UK will play with tackles Melvin Lewis and Mike Douglas and Smith along the line. Dupree and sophomore Jason Hatcher will play outside linebacker. Hatcher hasn't gotten the attention of some of his teammates in camp with Dupree and Smith returning, but the coaches know they have to find ways to get him on the field.

"He's had a great camp," Eliot said. "Jason's gotten better every day. There's always a big jump from Year 1 to Year 2 and we've seen it with him. He's a better athlete. He's a better player. He understands the game better. And we're very pleased with his progress."

Josh Forrest and another player will complete the front seven in the 3-4 at the two inside linebacker spots. As for who will start with Forrest, a decision has not been made between junior-college transfer Ryan Flannigan and Khalid Henderson. Henderson, a junior, has experience on his side, but Flannigan is competing.

"He's right where I expected him to be," Eliot said. "He has transitioned well. He's picking up the defense. He's physically right where he needs to be. He's right on track."

Recent Comments

  • Berdj J. Rassam: 2013 was a tough year for UK football, 2-10 overall and 0-8 in the SEC, so 2014 can't be much read more
  • Guy Ramsey: Yes, that is correct. The UK IMG Network will no longer televise games live or delayed. However, it will still read more
  • Guy Ramsey: We are still working on creating other pickup locations throughout Lexington and the state of Kentucky. In the meantime, you read more
  • Tom Payne: The uniform were indeed ugly, glad my TV survived. read more
  • Karen Miller: I always get my UK Football and Basketball schedules at McDonalds. But this year, McDonalds said they were not carrying read more
  • Scott: So, I don't have cable, and and want to stay legit. Are you telling me I will not be able read more
  • jeff: its about time!!! read more
  • dan: I do not know what video format you are using or what plug in I need to view them, but read more
  • Guy Ramsey: Rest easy, these uniforms were specially designed for the Bahamas trip and will not be worn during the regular season. read more
  • Gordon Brown: I did not like the new uniforms. I couldn't read the back numbers during the long TV shots. The numbers read more