Anybody who wondered about the “fight” left in this Kentucky team after that dismal showing at LSU, certainly got that question answered on Saturday. And number one Mississippi State’s quarterback and front seven on defense are as good as advertised. Those were two of my main takeaways from Kentucky’s 45-31 loss to the Bulldogs.
Dan Mullen is six years into his building of the MSU program and has a team loaded with talented juniors and seniors. In the last four years, the Bulldogs have put 13 players into the NFL and more are coming off this team. Kentucky has had five NFL draft picks during that time and will add one or two more off this one. So while it’s disappointing that UK has lost two in a row after a 5-1 start, when viewed in the context of the caliber of competition, this team is still well ahead of all but the most blue-eyed optimistic predictions for this season.
Back in 2006, the UK coaches were not convinced that they had found their quarterback when the season started. But in a lopsided loss to Louisville, Andre Woodson showed the competitiveness his coaches were wanting to see and they knew they had their man at that all important position. This game may have marked a similar defining moment for Patrick Towles, who made numerous NFL-caliber throws in a matchup with MSU’s Heisman Trophy contender, Dak Prescott.
Towles didn’t blink, especially after having a couple of passes dropped on what looked like it might have been a last-gasp drive late in the fourth quarter. When UK’s slim chance to pull out a victory mandated a quick scoring drive, Towles came thru. He ran the ball more than most might have expected but he’s very underrated in that area. And without a productive tight end to capitalize on open space in the middle of the field, Towles is perhaps the best option to take advantage of that opportunity. He still needs to shore up the intermediate passes that are so crucial to making Neal Brown’s offense click, but that should come with time.
This Saturday, he’ll be tested by a defense that excels in sacks and forcing turnovers in Missouri. Protection for the QB has been an issue for Kentucky, but when it comes to interceptions, Towles is second-best in the SEC at throwing the fewest picks-per-pass-attempt. If Towles has another big game at Missouri, I think there’s a great chance UK comes home bowl eligible.