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Stoops Says Wildcats are Ready to Show Fans They Have What it Takes

It’s been just over a week since Kentucky head football coach Mark Stoops answered the question he’s been asked most frequently since the 2013 season ended.

Who’s your starting quarterback?

Yet when Stoops met with the media Monday in advance of the Wildcats’ season-opener against Tennessee Martin Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium, it was a bit surprising when he said he also hoped his second string quarterback got on the field for at least a series or two.

Sophomore Patrick Towles, the former Mr. Football from Ft. Thomas Highlands, is the No. 1 signal-caller and he’ll see the bulk of the action. But backup Reese Phillips could also get a few snaps, Stoops said.

“That’s the plan right now,” Stoops said. “We’ll get into that honestly as we get through this week. I think I’d love to play him. But you know and I know Patrick needs the reps. We’ve got to get out there, get better, move this program forward. We’ll see how that goes. But to answer your question, I’d be very disappointed if he didn’t play in this game.”

But no matter what happens behind center on Saturday, don’t look for Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown to have a quick hook should Towles struggle a bit.

“You’ve got to look at Patrick and be proud for him, the way he’s responded to the situation,” the head coach said. “A year ago, you know, he came out of camp at this time, he was third on the depth chart. Like I said, he just went out and battled, got better over the year, came out this year, flipped the script and came out of it number one. He has an opportunity.

“I have a lot of confidence in him. I appreciate the way he’s gone about his business. I think our team has. He has this opportunity now. He needs to make the most of it.”

Kentucky will be opening its football season at Commonwealth Stadium for the first time since 2007, a fact that Stoops hopes will work in the Cats’ favor.

“Just playing at home in the opener is exciting to me,” said Stoops, who is in his second year at UK. “I know our fans are ready to go. 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 and make it exciting for the fans.”

Kentucky also is at home against Ohio for game two, making a fast start to the season a real possibility. And no more first-year jitters for a new coaching staff.

“You feel a lot better (going into the second year). You feel a lot more confident,” Stoops said. “But as I said, I think even as an assistant throughout all these years, you’re always anxious to get out there in the first game, see what you have, where you are. I know we’ve improved. We’ll see how much.”

Stoops said it was hard to predict what to expect from UT Martin.

“I think they’re a well coached team,” he said. “They’re very multiple on both sides of the ball, can do a lot of things. You got to be prepared for a lot, which is good for us to spend that time getting ready for a variety of offensive or defensive schemes. I think they’re the type of team, it’s a little unknown. They might get out there and try to pressure the heck out of us, or drop (several in coverage). They’ve shown both. I imagine we’ll see a bit of everything. It will be good for us to see how we prepare and respond to that.” 

In any case, Stoops said he is ready for his young team to show what it can do in front of a fevered pro-Wildcat crowd of some 60,000.

“I think they just need to go through it,” he said. “We put them in pressure situations all through camp. We’ve just got to throw them out there and see what they can do. I expect them to go out and play well. Some of the wide receivers will be forced into action. I want to say we have four redshirt freshmen that will play on the O line, four true freshmen will play at wide receiver.

“There’s no substitution for experience. You got to get them out there, get them on the field, and get them playing. We had a good camp (and) put them through a lot of tests. We’ll see how they go play.”

UK Wildcats TV Video with Mark Stoops:

This article appears courtesy of KY Forward and is written by sports editor Glenn Osborne