If Lynn Bowden has been waiting for a breakout opportunity, Saturday could be it
Throughout last season, whenever Kentucky was in a hole or needed a big play, Lynn Bowden tended to show up. Whether it was his 3rd-and-long touchdown catch at Florida, his electrifying punt return to bring the UK offense to life at Missouri, or his return TD to jump-start Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl, Bowden seemed to time his big plays well.
The junior receiver has been solid this year, too, nabbing 20 passes for 201 yards and a score in the Wildcats’ first 3 games, as well as rushing for 18 yards and completing his only pass for 32 yards. But as Kentucky travels to Starkville looking for a critical SEC win, Bowden hasn’t necessarily been the big-play threat that he was in the past.
Enter a massive opportunity on Saturday.
Mississippi State has a great running back (Kylin Hill) and a couple of mobile QBs who could threaten Kentucky with the pass or the run. The good news for the UK offense is that the MSU defense ranks 11th in the SEC in scoring defense and 11th in pass defense efficiency. This coincides with Kentucky moving away from a more RPO, ground based attack based on the loss of Benny Snell to the NFL and QB Terry Wilson to a season-ending injury.
Through 4 games, Kentucky has improved to 245 passing yards per game, a major jump from 161 it averaged a year ago. Given the Bulldogs’ relative struggles against the pass, and the emergence of Ahmad Wagner as an outside threat for Kentucky, Bowden might well find some big opportunities in the passing game.
That said, the punt return game presents yet another big opportunity for Bowden. State ranks 9th in the SEC in net punting and 10th in punt return yardage allowed. Bowden has only gotten to return 2 punts this season, but given the imperative nature of more offense for Kentucky, he may well get a shot Saturday.
Furthermore, Bowden has only returned 4 kickoffs, but State is last in the SEC in kickoff coverage by a wide margin, in part because only 8 of their 19 kickoffs went for touchbacks. For comparison’s sake, 15 of Kentucky’s 18 kickoffs this season have been touchbacks.
Finally, Bowden has seen snaps in Kentucky’s Wildcat package. For the past 2 seasons, he had to compete with Snell for those snaps, but Snell is gone, and so far, much of the magic has been lost in the Wildcat with UK feature back A.J. Rose taking snaps. Given Mark Stoops’ love of running the ball (and leaning on his defense), Bowden will likely see a few Wildcat snaps, as that formation allows him to be a threat as a runner and a passer. Bowden is 4-for-6 passing for 124 yards in his career, although both of his incomplete passes were interceptions. If Kentucky bogs down offensively, they might call Bowden’s number not as a receiver, but as a rusher or a passer.
There is one other factor that could spell a big game for Bowden — he remains one of the emotional leaders of this Kentucky team. The pregame video below, from the coin toss before UK’s win over Eastern Michigan, shows Bowden, one of Kentucky’s captains, fielding trash talk from EMU and answering with “We’ll see about it.”
Kash Daniels is such a psychopath. I love it. pic.twitter.com/FSZm5iUKLY
— Jack McGuire (@JackMacCFB) September 9, 2019
For Kentucky’s sake, Saturday would be a good time to see about it.