“I don’t know. I’m no quarterback guru,” the defensive-minded Stoops joked Monday during his weekly press luncheon.
The issue was no laughing matter on Saturday, however, as Towles -- who completed 10 of 18 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns in the first half -- hit only six of his last 16 attempts for 38 yards as Kentucky watched a 23-point lead evaporate before hanging on for a 40-33 victory over the Ragin’ Cajuns.
So what exactly happened to a quarterback who had completions of 36, 35, 29, 28, 37 and 26 yards in the first half?
“He was just a little bit inconsistent,” Stoops said. “He had some great throws and some explosive plays, but just missed some opportunities."
Towles finished with a line that may have looked impressive to those who did not see the entire game: 257 yards, three touchdowns, one interception, 40 points on the winning side of the scoreboard. But he also missed on two or three plays in which the receiver had a step on the defense and could have produced touchdowns.
"I think the fact that he missed one (throw), he started with an overthrow, and then had an underthrow. I think it does play into it a little bit," Stoops said. "He put a lot of pressure on himself. I think he cares a great deal and wanted to play very well. That’s the only thing I’ll tell him, to settle in and be who he is. I don’t want to get too much in his head and over coach that. I’m very confident in him that he’ll make the throws, but just like everyone else on our team, he’ll be held accountable. At some point you have to go, you have to make those plays.”
Kentucky had planned to get backup Drew Barker, a redshirt freshman, some snaps in the opener. But with the Cats losing the big lead and the staff hoping to see Towles regain his confidence, that opportunity never adequately presented itself.
The feast-or-famine nature of the Cats’ offense in the first game was partially due to an unorthodox defensive approach by ULL. The Ragin’ Cajuns played press coverage on the UK receivers -- daring the Cats to take shots down the field -- and brought constant pressure off the edges with their linebackers.
The result: 69 percent of UK’s 435 total yards came on eight plays. The Cats’ other 52 snaps produced only 137 yards.
That, in turn, had consequences for the UK defense. D.J. Eliot’s unit wound up playing 88 snaps, wearing down as the hot, humid night progressed. The Cats allowed only 197 yards and 3.7 yards per rushing attempt in the first half, but surrendered 282 yards and 6.8 yards per rushing attempt in the second half.
“To play good run defense or defense in general you would like to possess the ball a little bit, but the way (ULL) played they made us go up top, and we hit them,” Stoops said. “But that is where we have to do a better job because early we had a chance to put them away even more, and all that is a factor.
“We have to do what we talked about doing, which is grinding out and getting tough yards when we have to. Even if they are loading the box, we have to run the ball a little bit, and we did that late with the last touchdown run. Prior to the last play of us scoring, we were close to popping the one before that as well. We have to continue to work on that.”
Kentucky returns to action Saturday at South Carolina (1-0) in the SEC opener for both teams. The Gamecocks defeated North Carolina 17-13 on Thursday night, but allowed 440 yards of total offense (232 pass, 208 rush) to the Tar Heels. South Carolina's opportunistic defense intercepted three UNC passes, two of them coming in the red zone.