There’s Mark Stoops, talking about Lynn Bowden. Again.
“What he’s done, we talked about and talked about, but we should,” Stoops said. “It’s remarkable what he’s done. It’s absolutely remarkable.”
He’s right, of course, because Stoops was talking about Bowden’s historic effort in Kentucky’s 45-13 beat-down of arch-rival Louisville.
On a day best suited for ducks, fish and Navy SEALS, the Wildcats ran only 42 plays. Two of them were passes. The Cardinals knew the Cats were going to run it and run some more and yet, were powerless to stop them.
By the time the Governor had handed the Governor’s Cup (back) to the Wildcats, they had amassed an incredible 517 yards, breaking the school record – which had stood for exactly one week, when they rolled to 462 yards against UT-Martin.
And against Louisville, 284 of those belonged to Bowden, who set a new SEC record for rushing yards by a quarterback and missed the UK single-game record by just 15 yards. According to him, it was all because of the Big Blue Wall – the guys up front who blew open the holes.
“You don’t want to talk about me,” Bowden said. “You want to talk about that O-Line. Best in the nation. Whenever I get rich, I’m going to take them out to dinner. We’re gonna spend as much money as they want.”
And while Stoops surely appreciated the effort turned in by UK’s offensive front, it was Bowden he couldn’t stop raving about – as well as the co-offensive coordinators who reshuffled the playbook pages when an injured Sawyer Smith was struggling at QB.
“After Sawyer started getting better,” Stoops said, “Coach (Darin) Hinshaw, Eddie (Gran) and I would meet and we really stressed over it for a while. But I have to give credit to Eddie and Darin, two guys who love the forward pass and want to win. They kept coming back (to Bowden). They have so much confidence in Lynn because it opened up so many doors. You could build so much with it.”
“It” being the option run game that confounded Louisville from Kentucky’s first offensive possession, which ended in a TD. It followed a successful U of L touchdown drive that saw the Cards take a 6-0 lead. But other than a 56-yard scoring run that pulled Louisville to within 17-13 at halftime, it was all blue after that.
The late TD was a result of Stoops gambling on fourth down late in the half. The Cardinals stuffed Bowden on a read-option, one of the few times they dropped him for a loss. Two plays later, they had pulled to within four points. In the locker room at intermission, Bowden consoled Stoops.
“I told him I got him, to calm down,” Bowden said. “We came out with a different mentality in the second half.”
And it emanated from Bowden, who has a similar “it” factor as a quarterback and leader that another mobile quarterback has, one Stoops has faced in person: Lamar Jackson.
“We were fortunate we won the game up there,” Stoops said, referring to Kentucky’s upset of Jackson and the Cardinals in 2016. “We played really good.”
Of course, in 2017, Jackson torched the Wildcats for 372 total yards in a 44-17 U of L romp.
“The next year, when he came here,” Stoops said, “you could tell the alpha dog in him was like, ‘Oh no, boys, just ride my back. I’m taking this over.
“And what I’ve seen in Lynn, I compare in that regard. He’s just a competitor who’ll do anything he needs to do. He was telling his team, ‘Get on my back. I’ll take you where you need to go.’ Just amazing.”
As often as not, he took them to the end zone, tying the school record by scoring four times in what might be his final home game as a Wildcat. The junior wide receiver-turned-quarterback likely will enter the NFL Draft.
“I’ve got a lot of thinking to do,” he said. “If it was my last time, I wanted to leave my mark.”
Before he joined his team in the locker room, Bowden took a moment and walked to the UK logo at midfield for what might have been one last time. He bowed his head – no doubt savoring the moment.
“I told you all before, we’re a bunch of fighters,” he said to the media later. “We never give up on each other. We came out in the second half and dominated.”
And he carried his team to another win, his fifth in seven games as starting QB. It’s a Kentucky team a lot of experts back in July predicted would fail to break even. Now, in spite of the fact that its first three QBs went down with injuries, it’s heading to a bowl game for the fourth straight year.
“Through the blemishes, the scars, the tough losses, you learn to appreciate each other more,” Stoops said. “You appreciate the wins and the tough times.”
There have been just enough of both in 2019 – not to mention a dynamic quarterback worth the price of admission. Every penny.