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Vaught’s Views: What impresses former UK players the most about Lynn Bowden’s season?

What impresses former UK players the most about Lynn Bowden’s season?

By Larry Vaught

Lynn Bowden’s toughness impressed former UK and NFL tight end Jacob Tamme more than anything else this season. (Jeff Houchin Photo)

Ask Kentucky recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow how good Lynn Bowden is and he’ll quickly tell you that if he’s not the best player in the country, he’s certainly one of the top three.

With what Bowden did the final seven games after moving from receiver to quarterback, it’s hard to argue. He ran for 1,235 yards — and was over 100 yards in every game but one —and led  UK to a 5-2 finish. He’s the only player in the country to lead his team in receiving and rushing.

“He is truly remarkable in so many ways. But you have to recognize his competitive nature, and just how tough and competitive and what a leader he is,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said.

So has there been a Kentucky football player have a more special season than what Bowden did this season knowing that Benny Snell set UK’s all-time rushing record last year and that Josh Allen was also the national defensive player of the year in 2018?

I asked several former UK players along with media members how they evaluated Bowden’s season-saving performance?

“It is really hard to say just how good his season has been because it’s been such an abnormal season for him individually. When you think about quarterback, running back, wide receiver … there have been better seasons at each position but other than Randall Cobb for a year or two, there may not have been anyone mean more to a team than Lynn means to this team,” former all-SEC tight end Jacob Tamme, a nine-year NFL veteran, said.

“Obviously he’s a tremendous athlete but I’d say the thing that has impressed me the most about him, and maybe something we would not have been able to fully see without him taking on a role like this, has been his toughness. His toughness and grit have been on full display since becoming our full time quarterback.”

Former all-SEC defensive back Van Hiles says what Bowden has done ranks with the individual seasons running back Moe Williams and quarterbacks Tim Couch, Andre Woodson and Stephen Johnson had.

“I’m partial to Moe because he carried that offense that year (when he ran for a school record 1,600 yards in 1995). He had three or four games with 200 yards rushing,” Hiles said. “This is a close second, though.”

Hiles was impressed with Bowden’s ability to learn from his mistakes.

“He wasn’t patient in the pocket earlier in the season,” Hiles said. “He wasn’t patient with the quarterback draw and allowing the defensive line to establish rush lanes and allowing the guards time to enter the hole, not pitching the ball to the pitch man, etc.  In every instance he’s improved on those the next game. Preparation and committing to the process during practice is probably the reason for his success.”

Bowden ended his regular season with a record-setting 284-yard, four-touchdown performance against Louisville.

“It’s hard to argue Lynn Bowden not being in the top-10 of UK football athletes,” former UK All-American receiver Derek Abney said. “(Offensive line coach) John Schlarman and his guys up front have been amazing but to be the receiver Lynn is and to transition so successfully to quarterback in the SEC is a testament to the athlete Lynn is.

“His speed, strength, durability, competitiveness and breadth of abilities is what makes Lynn so exceptional. He certainly has that special ability to bring those around him up, which is a quality only found in the elite ones.”

Abney says Bowden’s “competitive fire” separates him from most players.

“Although he has it all, the great ones refuse to be denied, putting everything on their shoulders and succeeding more often than not,” Abney said.

Kentucky Radio Network play-by-play announcer Tom Leach says what Bowden has done “easily” ranks as one of the top 10 single best individual seasons at UK.

“Josh Allen’s year last season would be on the list, Art Still in 1977, Moe Williams in 1995, Bob Gain in 1950, Lou Michaels in 1957, Sonny Collins 1973 are a few that come to mind. Randall Cobb and Benny Snell should be in there, too, but at quick glance, I’m not which of their three years rank highest, which is a tribute to their entire bodies of work during their careers,” Leach said.

Leach notes that if Bowden had hit a few of the long passes he missed, he could also be leading the team in passing along with rushing and receiving.

“I’m not sure if that’s ever happened in the game of college football. And he and Cobb are the only two UK players to hit four figures in rushing yards, receiving yards and return yards,” Leach said. “I hope he wins the Paul Hornung Award (given to the nation’s most versatile offensive player) because I don’t think Bowden is getting enough attention for what he has done this season.”

Leach has to study opponents to get ready for his game broadcasts. So he knows how much film coaches and opposing players must have studied of Bowden to game plan against him.

“I thought it was a great move when UK lacked a healthy starter at quarterback to go to him but I also figured the productivity would decline over time … and probably fairly quickly,” Leach said.

Instead, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran found a plan that worked and Leach believes Bowden’s “vision and intelligence” enabled him to succeed at a far higher level than most believed was possible.

“I think great passers in basketball see the game one or two moves ahead and that may be what he does when he has the ball in his hands in space,” Leach said. “Secondly, to manage all of the things a quarterback has to manage and to start doing it halfway through a season on a position switch is beyond impressive, and he has improved from week to week.”

David Hopewell was on UK’s 1976 Peach Bowl team and 10-1 team in 1977 led by Derrick Ramsey, a running quarterback. He ranks what Bowden has done with Tim Couch’s big season the only thing comparable.

“It has always excited me to see what was going to happen when Tim and that bunch hit the field.   I’m more offensive minded anyway, so I liked to see Tim fling it around and always wanted to see the game stats afterward,”  Hopewell said. “I feel about the same way with Lynn. What rabbit is he going to pull out of his hat today kind of thing. With Lynn, it almost seems like a busted play is his friend. He can make a lot out of nothing. I have never see a coaching staff put so much confidence in one player either. If Lynn said he wanted to say the prayer and sing the National Anthem before the game, they’d let him do that too I’m sure.”

Why not? Bowden has done everything else asked of him and done it brilliantly going into Kentucky’s next game in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte.

Hopewell continues to marvel at Bowden’s durability. He worried Bowden at best would have to miss time during games or maybe even a game or two from the hits he would take.

“I’m sure he has his dings and is a regular in the training rooms on Sunday but to not miss games because of a bigger injury to me has been amazing. That last split second turn to avoid taking a big hit helps him survive,” Hopewell said.

* * *

Having Kentucky coach John Calipari come to the Marshall County Hoopfest last week to watch him play left 6-11 junior Moussa Cisse of Lausanne Collegiate (Memphis) with a “good feeling.”

“Coach Calipari is one of the big coaches. I was very happy to see him here,” Moussa said. “It doesn’t bother me when a big coach like that comes. It’s good to have him watch me but I am not going to try and do too much just because the coach is here. But I really like it, though, that he was here.”

Cisse showed off his overall athleticism despite an off shooting game. He was 5-for-14 from the field and had 14 points, nine rebounds, five blocks, two steals and one assist.

Cisse is a consensus top 10 player in the 2021 recruiting class and his offer list includes Memphis, Georgia, Michigan, Ole Miss, Georgetown, Florida State, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, St. John’s, Texas, UCLA, Virginia and Texas A&M.

Kentucky has already signed six players in its 2020 recruiting class but is still looking for a bigger player like Cisse. However, Cisse insists he knows nothing about speculation he might reclassify to the 2020 class.

“It is the hardest decision of my life. I really don’t focus on that. I am focused on my school and my grades and my basketball. When time comes for recruiting stuff, I pray to God to help me so I can make the right decision,” Cisse said.

He says speculation that he might reclassify is “not real” and he’s not sure where the speculation started.

“I don’t nothing about that.I am not rushing nothing. I am just working on my game,” he said.

His coach, Marvin Davis, calls reclassification rumors “speculation” and nothing more.

“Nothing has been talked about with us and I don’t know anything about that,” the coach said.

John Calipari watched Moussa Cisse play at the Marshall County Hoopfest last week but the 6-11 junior says he’s not even though about reclassifying like some have speculated. (Scott Brown photo)

* * *

Auburn transfer Joey Gatewood will be the fifth highest ranked player to play at Kentucky since recruiting rankings were started in 2000 and two of those above him — LSU transfer defensive back Kelvin Joseph and four-star Michigan lineman Justin Rogers (who is expected to sign with UK Dec. 18) — will be his teammates next season.

Gatewood was a four-star quarterback in Florida and top 50 prospect nationally in the 2018 recruiting rankings when he picked Auburn over Alabama, Clemson, Florida, LSU, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon and many others.

He redshirted in 2018, lost the starting job to true freshman Bo Nix this year and then played in seven games — he ran for a touchdown against Oregon and threw touchdown passes against Texas A&M and Arkansas. However, he put  his name into the transfer portal and then visited UK for the Tennessee and Louisville games.

SEC Network analyst Cole Cubelic, a former Auburn player, thinks Gatewood will be a good fit for UK even if he does have to sit out the 2020 season as expected when the Cats figure to have Terry Wilson and Sawyer Smith both back at quarterback and healthy.

Cubelic says then in 2021 Gran can take the best of his passing offense with Wilson and running offense he developed this year with Lynn Bowden and have Gatewood who can do both.

“Eddie Gran will have the perfect athlete for it in Joey Gatewood,” Cubelic said.

* * *

Kentucky volleyball plays Washington on Friday in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen and coach Craig Skinner says not to underestimate the role sophomore Lauren Tharp played in UK’s second-round tourney sweep of Michigan.

Teammates Leah Edmond, Madison Lilley, Gabby Curry and Alli Stumler get most of the attention for the team’s success and all have had sensational seasons. But Tharp continues to make big plays at key times and UK will need more of that if it hopes to win twice in Texas and reach its first Final Four.

“We like it when people go after Lauren because she is a great passer, and not only that, she is a great competitor and she really has no memory of what happened the last point,” Skinner said. “So if that’s people’s game plan, it’s happened before throughout the year and she responded.

“The first trip across the back row (against Michigan) I think she had three perfect passes out of three. Every team at the tournament serves well and we have great ball control, and it’s not always perfect and we have ways to get out of that. Lauren did a great job.”

Sophomore Lauren Tharp (3) celebrated after UK’s sweep of Michigan to put UK into this weekend’s Sweet Sixteen. (Vicky Graff photo)

* * *

Quote of the Week: “I knew John Calipari from the five-star basketball game, and I looked at him as not as this mega-god millionaire. He’s just a basketball coach preparing for a basketball game and they were prepared,” Fairleigh Dickinson coach Greg Herenda after his team’s loss to Kentucky.

Quote of the Week 2: “He can get a shot off at any point. He is 6-7, long arms, creates space really, really well. Kentucky is getting a really good one in him. He is a terrific scorer and has a scorer’s mindset. He can pick apart a defense because he sees the court so well,” Dream City Christian (Ariz.) coach Kyle Weaver on UK basketball signee Brandon Boston.

Quote of the Week 3: “We had absolutely nobody to match up with her, which clearly we knew coming into this game. I think I probably underestimated her ability to rise up and make shots even though you have a hand up. It  is not enough for a player at this level-at this elite of a level,” Charlotte coach Cara Consuegra on Rhyne Howard scoring 29 points against her team.

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