At this late stage of the season, it's almost unheard of for a coach to allow his quarterback to be hit in practice. So was Mark Stoops trying something drastic before Kentucky's season finale?
No, it turns out. It's just Louisville week.
"No red in this facility this week," Towles said.
With UK (5-6) set to travel to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium for a matchup with the No. 22 Cardinals (8-3) at noon ET on Saturday, Towles and his fellow quarterbacks decided in a walkthrough they wanted no part of wearing their archrivals' color. With the Ft. Thomas, Ky., native set to start against Louisville for the first time, it just wouldn't feel right.
"I've been a Kentucky fan my whole life, so this is a game that I look forward to every year," Towles said. "Being able to play in it is truly special for me and my family, so I'm excited - we're all excited to go down there and play 'em."
The excitement is team-wide, but Towles is somewhat of a rarity among the Wildcats when it comes to intimate familiarity with the heated UK-U of L rivalry. He's one of just 10 players on the two-deep depth chart from Kentucky, meaning the coaching staff has had some work to do in helping a young UK team understand the passion behind the annual battle for the Governor's Cup.
"We're giving them different things each (day) and having former players talk to the team a bit and just get them educated on (the rivalry) a little bit and the importance of it," Stoops said. "I don't think there should be any lack of motivation for our team. Just the opportunity to go in there and get our sixth victory, which we all know is very important to us and this program. So I think our team is motivated, but it's also good to educate them on the series and get them caught up to speed on the rivalry."
As Stoops said, UK is trying to manage the emotions of playing its biggest rival and working toward its sixth win, which would make the Cats bowl eligible for the first time since 2010. Stoops expects his team to handle it all just fine, especially with the open date UK had to recuperate mentally and physically beforehand.
"We'll prepare and be excited to go play," Stoops said. "But there is no reason to be tense or to go play tight. I don't anticipate that. I'd like to see us play with that great passion and energy that we did for most of the season."
The Cardinals can be expected to do the same.
"They're playing some very good football coming off a great win at Notre Dame," Stoops said. "So Louisville's a very good football team, very well-coached and playing at a high level right now."
That starts on defense, where the Cardinals rank seventh nationally in total defense at 290.2 yards per game and 14th in scoring defense at 18.7 points per game. Only unbeaten and defending national champion Florida State has managed more than 28 points or better than 4.1 yards per carry against U of L.
"They've got one of the top defenses in the country," Towles said. "Bring a lot of pressure. They're really good at defensive end. They've got a lot of really good players, and of course they've got that defensive back with all those interceptions."
That defensive back is safety Gerod Holliman, who, with 13 interceptions, is one pick away from tying a national record that has stood since 1968.
"I think some of that is schematic," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "You have to give some of the credit to their defensive staff. He's a free player quite a bit. But the thing about it is he breaks on the ball really well and he's got good ball skills."
Louisville's pass rush doesn't hurt his cause either.
The Cardinals are ninth nationally in sacks, racking up 3.27 per game. Senior defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin (6.5 sacks) anchors the Cardinal pass rush while also helping to hold opponents to 88.5 yards per game on the ground, good for third nationally.
"They've rushed the passer so well you've got to keep them honest (with the run)," Brown said. "But I think that's important. We've got to do a good job, not only at the offensive line position, but our tight ends, fullbacks have to be involved in the game plan and we've gotta, our running backs have got to run."
On the other side of the ball, UK will contend with a U of L offense that has handed the reins to athletic freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon after a season-ending injury to Will Gardner. The Cardinals also have a stable of running backs that features three runners with at least 378 yards and four touchdowns, as well as a receiving corps boosted by the return of DeVante Parker.
In just five games in 2014, Parker has 29 catches for 555 yards.
"Certainly them having DeVante back outside is a real weapon," Stoops said. "He is a fantastic football player and a guy you've constantly got to have your eye on and know where he's at."
Whether it's in defending Parker or otherwise, it's all hands on deck for a UK team that's as healthy as it's been in a long time after a much-needed bye.
"We'll need to go in there and play our very best," Stoops said. "I expect our team to do that. We've had a great bye week and we're off to a great start here this week. Guys are energized and working extremely hard. Again, we'll need to improve to go in there and compete at a high level with Louisville."