(Courtesy Guy Ramsey – UK Athletics) All game, the plays were there to be made.
They were there when UK scored three touchdowns of 35 yards or more in barely a quarter to build a 21-0 lead on UL Lafayette. They were even there as the Wildcat offense stalled and the Ragin’ Cajuns tied the game late on Saturday.
“We had a ton of explosive plays,” offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said, “and we could’ve had probably double that many, more than I’ve probably ever had, we could’ve had, but the bottom line is our execution was a little off. … Really, it might’ve been the best offensive game I could’ve probably had coaching if we execute a little bit, you know? But we were just a little off.”
The most visible near-misses came on deep balls thrown by Patrick Towles, who has drawn criticism after UK’s 40-33 season-opening win. The junior quarterback completed just 16-of-34 passes, but threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns nonetheless.
Towles, however, couldn’t connect on a handful of deep balls that would have put the game out of reach, most notably on a ball to Garrett Johnson that was underthrown, intercepted and set up UL Lafayette’s game-tying touchdown.
“If I hit that and I throw a good ball, we score a touchdown and nobody talks about it,” Towles said.
In assessing the reasons for Towles’ occasional inaccuracy, Dawson mentioned footwork first. Towles agreed.
“(My feet) were a little unsettled a little bit early,” Towles said. “On the really good throws I had they were definitely settled and as the game went on I got a lot better at that. There was a little lapse about the third quarter. At the end, I was happy with how I came back.”
Towles, of course, would guide the game-winning touchdown drive, but Dawson still found himself questioning his aggressiveness as a play-caller.
“Now the problem was more so probably me,” Dawson said. “I took some shots, probably, when I — and got us in second and 10 a lot. I don’t think I helped the defense a whole lot with my aggressiveness at times. And so I probably have to do a better job of understanding the flow of the game and trying to grind out some first downs at times, but it’s hard when they’re sitting there giving you exactly what you want and you have a guy that you know can beat him.”
That’s when Dawson’s job gets hard.
He has a talented group of wide receivers who consistently beat single coverage against UL Lafayette and a quarterback perfectly capable of finding them downfield. For that reason, Towles doesn’t think Dawson has any reason to question himself.
“I appreciate (Dawson taking the blame),” Towles said. “I do. But I don’t think we were too aggressive. I just gotta make those throws and I didn’t. I did today and I plan on doing it on Saturday.”
Saturday, Towles and the Cats will hit the road to take on the same South Carolina team they upset last season in Commonwealth Stadium. Don’t expect them to quit taking their shots against the Gamecocks.
“I feel very, very confident about our plan,” Towles said. “I really like the direction we’re headed and I’m excited to see how it pans out.”