There are few things in football more overrated than play-calling, yet there are apparently those among the unhappy Kentucky faithful taking the easy way out and banging on Randy Sanders’ decisions on Saturday, especially Patrick Towles’ second series at quarterback when after the freshman had led UK on an 80-yard drive, the Cats ran the football three times and punted.
Joker Phillips addressed that today at his press luncheon.
“I thought the first drive that he went in, we threw a naked, we threw a screen out to the tailback things that he should feel comfortable with,” said Phillips when asked about Towles. ” And then we max protect and one guy was losing his guy, so one of our tailbacks went and tried to help him and his guy came free. So we had a max protection for him and nothing he had to manage and he stood in there and made the play for us. So I thought his first series was really good.
“And then the second series I think we ran the ball three times. And you say, well, why did you run the ball three times when the guy just completed those passes. Well, we ran the ball on first down and got six. Okay. We ran the ball on second down and got three. So now it’s third and one. So we ran it on third down trying to get the first down.
“And then made a couple mistakes in the third series, but again, it’s to be expected.”
Indeed, on that second series, taking over at its own 14-yard line, UK ran Jonathan George for six yards. That set up a second-and-four. George was again handed the ball and picked up three yards. That brought up a third-and-one. Again, George ran the football, but this time was dropped for a four-yard loss.
It’s easy to criticize play calls on a three-and-out series, but don’t knock a series in which two of the three plays were successful. A successful first down gets at least 40 percent of the needed yards. Accomplished. A successful second down gets at least 60 percent of the needed yards. That, too, was accomplished. The third down play did not work.
It may also have been that Sanders knew that, after Towles five-for-five through the air on the previous drive, Mississippi State would turn up the pressure on the young quarterback. Sure enough, next series, State went hard for the quarterback, which resulted in the 12-yard sack and Towles suffering his high ankle sprain. The quarterback admitted afterward he should have gotten rid of the football.
After that, Towles’ foot was in a boot and the home team’s scant chances were up to Jalen Whitlow, another true freshman. Mississippi State was 4-0, ranked 20th in the nation, and No. 1 in turnover margin. Are we really going to blast Sanders’ play-calling in that against-the-odds situation? Seriously.