For nine games, Patrick Towles has been Kentucky’s unquestioned leader, holding down the starting quarterback position since Day 1. It’s possible that could change in the near future.
On Saturday, coach Mark Stoops put the junior’s coveted role into question after Kentucky lost to UGA 27-3, the Wildcats’ fourth straight defeat. Stoops had said he’d consider looking into other options, and as the minutes ticked off the clock, he brought in backup Drew Barker.
Now, Stoops said he’ll change the way his quarterbacks take practice reps as the Wildcats continue to ponder what they’ll do with the position going forward.
“I think we’ll handle it slightly different with quarterback reps,” Stoops said Monday in his weekly press conference. “Drew gets quite a few snaps throughout practices anyway, and the way we rotate guys, he’s in there quite a bit with the ones anyway. With the receivers, a lot of times we just sub them in and continuously rotate them. But it’ll be slightly different.”
Towles ranks sixth in Kentucky history in career passing yards. The junior has 2,010 passing yards and nine touchdowns this season, averaging 223.3 yards per game.
But Towles also has 12 interceptions, giving Stoops a legitimate reason for concern.
After Saturday’s game, Towles told multiple reporters in the locker room that he understood why Stoops was considering a change.
“We’ve addressed it with Patrick, and he understands that and he accepts that,” Stoops said. “So he’s got to go out and perform and produce just like everybody else on our team.”
While Towles is still listed at the top of Kentucky’s depth chart heading into the Vanderbilt matchup, Stoops had high praise for Barker on Monday. It was just three weeks ago that Barker made his collegiate debut against Mississippi State when the game was already out of hand, but Stoops has nevertheless been impressed.
After tweaking a shoulder against Mississippi State, Barker was out for the Tennessee game; against UGA, he entered the game in the final minutes. In his two appearances, Barker has gone 8-for-11 with one interception.
Stoops said the Kentucky staff has considered the ramifications of making a quarterback switch against Vanderbilt’s defense. But at the end of the day, he said, “whoever gives us the best chance to go into Vandy and win will take the first snaps.”
In Barker, Stoops sees confidence and natural instincts that bode the Wildcats well despite his limited game experience. Stoops lauded the redshirt freshman’s ability to think on the fly and make quick decisions with the ball.
Stoops also didn’t seem too worried about how Towles will respond to the situation.
“I think Patrick will be fine,” he said. “I think one thing about him is he’s been resilient. He’s had some good games and some bad games, and again it’s not all on him. We need to play better around him.”