Joker Phillips today said that highly regarded freshman Patrick Towles would be playing on Saturday, after sitting out the season's first five games, including four straight losses. The roster says he'll wear No. 14. He ought to be wearing No. 22 -- as in Catch 22.
Here's the problem for Phillips.
-- The best-case scenario is that Towles comes out and plays like gangbusters, takes the game by storm and, if he isn't the best QB on the team, is at least better than fellow freshman Jalen Whitlow. But if that happens, the question immediately must be asked -- where has he been? If he's good enough to contribute now, why hasn't he been in the mix? Why did Whitlow go to Florida instead of Towles? In Phillips' best-case scenario, the team might win, but the analysis of his judgment loses.
-- And if Towles isn't good, or at least, isn't as good as Whitlow, then Phillips has wasted a redshirt on a kid who could've used the time to develop.
In other words, it's possible that Phillips either wastes a redshirt or wasted five games not using a qualified quarterback.
Of course, there is some middle ground. Towles, more than likely, will play all right, and turn in a decent performance.
And that will leave people wondering if he did the right thing or not.
The storyline is that Towles is being pressed into service by starter Maxwell Smith's ankle ligament damage and senior Morgan Newton's inability to get the job done. And that's true, at least in part.
But Phillips went further than just saying Towles will play if something happens to freshman Jalen Whitlow, who performed well for most of last Saturday's loss to South Carolina. Phillips says Towles will definitely get some time, and that the split could be as much as 50-50.
Which leads to the question -- if he can play that much, why hasn't he been playing all along.
The quiet message coming out of the UK camp since preseason has been that Whitlow beat Towles out for the No. 3 spot. He was the guy UK coaches took to Florida with them knowing Smith was ailing.
Now, all of a sudden, Towles is ready to go?
I get the reasoning. If you burn the redshirt, you'd better give Towles some reps. And if Towles gives you the best chance to win, you have to go with him.
But given the UK offensive line's improving performance, it stands to reason that establishing a solid run game will serve it better down the stretch than the quick passing game that wasn't able to eat up possession quite enough to help its defense.
With Whitlow running the zone read and scrambling to turn losses into gains in the offense, one of the best defenses in the nation in South Carolina was thrown a bit off balance. At the very least, South Carolina had to pause before attacking the ball carrier.
Whitlow's problem came when he had to become a straight drop-back passer late in the game while trailing.
Enter Towles. This staff clearly wants to throw the ball. It wants a pro-style offense. Towles makes that more possible than Whitlow (of whom neither Phillips nor offensive coordinator Randy Sanders was overwhelmingly complementary after the South Carolina loss, with Phillips pointing out some missed checks and protection calls by Whitlow.)
"We'll have to play them both," Phillips said. "It's going to take an effort of both of them. And it could be right in the middle of a series. It could be play after play after play, switching them out."
So on Saturday, we're going to see two different looks. In general, when teams try that, neither attack fares well. Now the offensive line and receivers have to be ready for two different kinds of attacks, as well as two quarterbacks. Better to pick the one that you can sustain against SEC defenses. If you have a good running quarterback, good line and a threat at running back, the zone read and other read plays can be equalizers against a talented defense. I think the more sustainable attack is using Whitlow, establishing the run, then burning defenses with the pass.
But for now, the only thing sure to be burned is Towles' redshirt. It looks like a no-win situation for Phillips. But maybe it won't be for UK.
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