LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles and coach Mark Stoops have found it hard to contain their anticipation about new-look Commonwealth Stadium.
Stoops has occasionally stopped by to check progress of round-the-clock construction. Towles has found sanctuary there amid the clanging and cleanup.
“I’m a big fan of peaceful situations,” Towles said. “On Saturday there’s not going to be a lot of peace, so I just wanted to get in there, relax and take it all in.”
When the action begins on the field, the junior quarterback aims to guide Kentucky past Louisiana-Lafayette in the coming-out party for the “new” CWS following a $120 million makeover.
A near-sellout crowd is expected for the first of eight home games as the Wildcats look to improve on last year’s 5-7 finish, and clinch the program’s first bowl appearance since 2010.
Doing so means putting aside the pomp and circumstance to beat a Ragin’ Cajuns squad coming off their fourth straight 9-4 finish and New Orleans Bowl victory. Junior running back Elijah McGuire returns after rushing for 1,264 yards and 14 touchdowns last season.
For the Wildcats, establishing a similar postseason presence starts with handling their business at home.
“We’re excited, but the most important thing we can do is go out and play well,” Stoops said of keeping players from getting caught up in the moment.
“It’s important to a lot of people, and we recognize that. But we truly have to play one play at a time, and we’ve got to have discipline and focus about us to do that.”
No doubt, the Wildcats are eager to make a strong first impression as they aim to make CWS feel like home instead of their home field.
Modern amenities abound for players in the 61,000-seat stadium, including a club lounge/training table and new recruiting room with a patio overlooking the field. The recruiting room sits atop a newly-created tunnel from which the Wildcats will enter a new synthetic turf field with checkerboard patterns in the end zones.
Having watched the stadium’s nearly two-year transformation, Kentucky safety A.J. Stamps and teammates can’t wait to kick off its new era and added, “the adrenaline’s going to be flowing for sure.”