By LARRY VAUGHT
My guess is that no one who watched Lynn Bowden play high school football in Youngstown, Ohio, was the least bit surprised by what he did to lead Kentucky to a 24-20 win over Arkansas last week.
He was Kentucky’s emergency starter at quarterback and all he did was run 24 times for 196 yards and two scores and complete seven of 11 passes for 78 yards and another score. It was the most rushing yardage by any UK player against a SEC opponent since running back Rafael Little ran for 198 yards in 2005 and second most rushing yards by a quarterback in school history behind the 208 yards Mike Fanuzzi had in 1974 – and was exactly the kind of thing he did in high school when he was a four-star recruit.
Bowden primarily plays receiver and came into the Arkansas game with 114 catches for 1,303 yards and six touchdowns in his three years at UK.
“I was not surprised because that is what he does,” Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said. “Everything is just natural for him.”
It is but don’t think he didn’t work a lot the previous two weeks when UK coaches were convinced Sawyer Smith, who took over at quarterback when starter Terry Wilson went down with an injury in week two, would not physically be able to play.
“The last two weeks when we talked to Lynn about playing quarterback he totally bought in,” UK quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw said. “He was early to every meeting, constantly watching film, taking notes. He was taking it serious and not just wanting to be a wildcat quarterback but showing he wanted to play quarterback.”
He was a superb quarterback at Warren Harding High School in Youngstown where he threw for 1,366 yards, ran for 2,277 yards and accounted for 57 touchdowns his senior season. He drew comparisons to former UK star Randall Cobb and was considered one of the most dynamic playmakers in the country by many. Yet just as home-state Tennessee paid little attention to Cobb, Ohio State never really made a serious effort to recruit Bowden — a top 60 player in his recruiting class. Never mind that he was Ohio’s sixth all-time leading rusher with 7,387 yards and 10th in rushing touchdowns with 91. Ohio State worried about his academics and off-field demeanor.
Vince Marrow, a Youngstown native, recruited Bowden for years. He called him “maybe the most talented dude” ever to come out of Youngstown, a town that has had a ton of great players, and thought UK would be the perfect place for him to succeed – and was right.
Arkansas coach Chad Morris called Bowden an “unbelievable football player.” He said the Razorbacks expected Bowden to be at quarterback — and they still couldn’t stop him. Arkansas linebacker De’Jon Harris said he was a “hell of a player” because he makes “right plays at the right moment.”
SEC Network analyst Jordan Rogers, a former Vanderbilt and NFL quarterback, has no problems with Bowden staying at quarterback for UK even if Smith is physically ready to go at Georgia.
“He has shown he can do enough in the pass game to keep defenses honest and keep them balanced,” Rodgers said. “You want the ball in the hands of your best player and this way they can do that.”
Former UK running back Anthony White is not sure. He wonders now that SEC defenses have seen what Bowden can do if they won’t keep a linebacker in the middle of the field as a “spy” on Bowden and contain the lanes outside to cut him off there.
“It’s harder to gain yards when teams can see film and scheme against you,” White said. “You want the ball in Lynn’s hands as much as possible but I am not sure he is the answer at quarterback. I do have faith in Eddie Gran that if he keeps Lynn back there, he could be effective. I think he can throw the ball if you need him, too, but I prefer he use his legs and I just worry teams will game plan to contain him.”
Hinshaw said hopefully Smith gets back to where he can practice this week show he could be ready to play at Georgia Saturday night. However, Bowden certainly indicated after the Arkansas win that he would comfortable staying at quarterback, something teammates seemed to fully embrace, too.
If that happens, Hinshaw says there is more Bowden can still do because he’s smart and understands the offense just like Cobb did when he was at UK.
“It was so enjoyable to have him in the (quarterback) room and engaged and being a sponge and learning the position of quarterback,” Hinshaw said. “He put in the time and you could tell he was ready and now obviously there is a lot more we can with him passing and some more running if that’s the way we go.”