The case for Kentucky's do-everything Lynn Bowden as an All-American
Sadly, I don’t have an All-American ballot.
If I did, though, Lynn Bowden would be on it.
That’s right. The high school quarterback turned Kentucky receiver turned quarterback deserves that all-purpose spot on the All-America team. At least as of right now.
For those who haven’t paid any attention to Kentucky since the devastating loss to Florida, here’s a little rundown of what you missed the past few weeks. Bowden, AKA the guy who came into the season as one of the SEC’s top receivers — he backed that up with 27 catches for 330 yards in the first 4 games of the 2019 season — is 2-1 since taking over as Kentucky’s starting quarterback. The loss was against a top 5 Georgia defense on the road in wet and windy conditions (he still ran for 99 yards on 5.8 yards per carry).
But in those 2 wins? Man, Bowden was special.
He averaged 200 rushing yards on 9 yards per carry and 2 touchdowns to go along with 5 completions for 66 yards per game. When you take into account that the predictability of Kentucky’s offense is essentially that of a service academy at this point, that’s all the more impressive.
Kentucky was idle in Week 10, but Bowden ended Week 9 less than 200 yards behind the SEC rushing leader despite the fact that he has half the carries and a fraction of the experience running the football at this level. Even after Week 10, he’s 11th in the SEC in rushing yards. Preseason All-SEC running back Najee Harris has just 44 more rushing yards and 1 more rushing score on 33 more attempts than Bowden.
Efficient, electric, entertaining, exciting … whatever “E” adjective you want to use to describe the Kentucky playmaker works for me. It’s not just the numbers that Bowden put up that makes him worthy of that all-purpose spot. It’s how it happened and the unselfishness of his decision.
As a junior, now is the time for Bowden to be putting together those clips to show that he can be an NFL receiver. But instead of doing that, he put Kentucky’s needs ahead of his own. A team that lost Gunnar Hoak and Danny Clark to transfer since the end of last year’s regular season watched returning starter Terry Wilson and grad transfer Sawyer Smith go down during the 2019 season.
Consider the circumstances. Kentucky’s entire offseason motto was about how it built “a program, not a team” and that it wasn’t going back to irrelevance following the historic 10-win season in 2018 even though it lost the likes of Benny Snell and Josh Allen. If the Cats go 5-7, it’s back to square one. Maybe not internally, but nationally, that’s absolutely the case.
Before Bowden took over, Kentucky was heading on that path at 2-3. Now, though, the Cats have life and Bowden is the reason they’re back in the bowl hunt. There’s a realistic chance that they’ll be favored in each of their final 4 games, which means an 8-win regular season is still very much in play for the 4-4 squad.
Kentucky has Bowden to thank for that. And probably not enough credit has been given to Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran, who as Mark Stoops said, has done a good job putting Bowden in positions to succeed. It also helps when you’ve got an offensive line that can create holes like this:
Lynn Bowden Jr. is GOING OFF 😤 pic.twitter.com/82Hjcjnr9S
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) October 27, 2019
At this point, Stoops would be foolish to deviate from Bowden as the starting signal-caller even when Smith is at 100%. The Kentucky coach said last week that “he doesn’t expect to depart from the Bowden offense.”
And why would he? Sure, Kentucky is more 1-dimensional with Bowden at quarterback, but it’s not like he can’t throw. Gran could still elect to do what he did early in the game against Mizzou. That is, bring in Smith for the obvious passing situations. Bowden can still rack up numbers and continue to be the second coming of Randall Cobb.
But let’s get back to the matter at hand here — Bowden’s case to be an All-American.
Bowden became the only player since 2000 to have at least 150 passing yards, 500 rushing yards and 300 receiving yards in his team’s first 8 games. Oh, and did I mention that in his first start at quarterback, he even went back and continued his duties as a punt returner? As Stoops said after last week’s game, “he’ll do anything we ask him to do.” That’s got “Paul Hornung Award” written all over it.
This is just insane:
Lynn Bowden’s night is done. He now leads Kentucky this season in rushing yards (598), receiving yards (348) and kick/punt return yards (253) and could certainly chase down the season lead for passing yards (665) if he stays at QB. He’s at 188 passing so far.
— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_ATH) October 27, 2019
I’m sorry, but with all due respect to that receiver who also returns punts and runs the occasional jet sweep, what Bowden is doing is far more “all-purpose.” It’s throwback. It’s selfless. It’s amazing.
This isn’t a video game. Skills aside, the average person probably doesn’t realize how difficult it is for a receiver to drop his playbook midseason and learn everything that goes into leading an offense from the quarterback position. The pre-snap decision-making, knowing the protections and reading SEC defensive ends isn’t something you’re just suddenly good at because you were a standout high school quarterback.
What Bowden is doing takes a combination of brains, guts and skill that few people have. That’ll be true regardless of if he has a bad game and Kentucky loses at home against Tennessee.
Three of these final 4 games are in Lexington, which usually shifts gears to basketball when November arrives. There will still be all eyes on Rupp Arena for the remainder of Kentucky’s football season, but Bowden has given that fan base a reason to continue to show up to Kroger Field.
Bowden is more than a feel-good story. If the last few weeks were any indication, his quarterback story is far from over.
Don’t be surprised if the next chapter is titled: “Lynn Bowden, All-American.”