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Lynn Bowden is excited to “get back in the lab” following crucial drops at MSU

Matt Bush | USA TODAY Sports

For most college football players, a seven-reception, 129-yard performance to lead all receivers in a true road game would be one worth celebrating.

Kentucky star wideout Lynn Bowden is not like most college football players.

For the junior playmaker out of Youngstown, OH who had All-SEC hype going into the 2019 season, Bowden’s impressive numbers on the box score were overshadowed by multiple brutal drops in Kentucky’s attempted comeback effort against Mississippi State on Saturday afternoon. Two of them were guaranteed touchdowns.

Down 21-3 with just under five minutes to go in the second quarter, Kentucky managed to claw back and cut the MSU lead to just eight points in the fourth quarter. While there were other mishaps to factor in – Sawyer Smith’s opening-drive pick-six, a separate touchdown drop from Ahmad Wagner, and two missed field goals from Chance Poore, just to name a few – a disappointed Bowden said after the game that just one of his drops in the end zone could have been the difference in Kentucky’s 28-13 loss.

“I’ve just got to reel them in,” the star receiver said. “I dropped two or three balls. … I’ve got to get back in the lab, dropped too many balls, man.”

Despite breaking the 100-yard mark for just the second time in his Kentucky career and being in a position where he could have pointed fingers after the loss, Bowden was quick to put the loss on his shoulders.

“I don’t blame nobody but myself, I’ve just got to be better,” the junior wide receiver said. “I’ve got to reel them in, connect on those deep balls.”

When asked about how he builds off of the good – 129 receiving yards and 37 rushing yards is nothing to scoff at – and moves on from the bad, Bowden says finding that happy medium is difficult for him. As a player with tremendous confidence in his abilities, he expects to make those clutch plays in crunch time.

One of those moments came on a 4th and 8 at the Mississippi State 33-yard line, where the talented playmaker juked and fought his way through several defenders for a 21-yard gain.

“That’s Lynn right there,” Bowden said. “I’ve just got to get back to being myself for the full game.”

When he doesn’t make those plays, he admits he’s hard on himself.

“I’m a very confident person, but when I make mistakes, I get very hard on myself,” he said. “It’s like a 50/50 thing, just have to be stronger minded, that’s it.”

So how does he plan on finding that middle ground with yet another difficult road matchup set for next Saturday at South Carolina?

“Stop listening to everybody and play the football I know how to play,” Bowden said.

Outside of his own personal mistakes, the Youngstown, OH native is confident in his team’s ability to shake off the back-to-back losses and find success the rest of the season.

And it starts in the red zone.

After getting the ball inside the 11 yard line on two separate occasions in the fourth quarter, Kentucky came away with just three points. It starts there, with Bowden stressing that the team has to find a way to finish off strong drives with touchdown scores.

“We want to score every chance we get,” he said. “We’ve got to work on finishing. I don’t think we finished well tonight. We just go to get back to the lab.”

In the first half, Bowden felt the entire team reverted back to “old Kentucky football,” but came back after intermission with an edge that put them in position to make things interesting at the end of the game.

Keeping that same late-game mentality is a necessity as the team heads to Columbia, SC next week.

“In the second half, we came out and played our ball. But we played old Kentucky football in the first half. So we just got to make up for mistakes [moving forward].”

Sawyer Smith shoulders blame for Kentucky’s poor start

Photo: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

While there were numerous crucial moments that proved to be detrimental in Kentucky’s 28-13 loss to Mississippi State on Saturday night, it’s tough to argue that any single mishap was more costly than quarterback Sawyer Smith’s opening-drive interception returned for a touchdown.

While Kentucky turned things around in the second half and put itself in position to win late in the fourth quarter, it was evident that starting from behind killed any and all momentum the team had going into the game. A 7-0 start quickly snowballed into a 21-3 deficit with just over five minutes to go in the second quarter.

After the game, Smith took full responsibility for his early mistake and was quick to admit that it proved to make things difficult for his team moving forward.

“I threw the ball a little behind Justin Rigg,” the junior quarterback said. “You cannot start a football game off like that. And that kind of swung the momentum of the whole game. I have to work on that, take better care of the ball, and take the blame for what happened there.”

And while some felt the slow start was nothing more than a hangover from Kentucky’s disappointing loss to Florida last week, Smith said he didn’t believe that to be the case in the slightest. Take out his interception, and the 6-foot-3 quarterback believes the outcome of the game is different.

“No, I don’t think [there was a Florida hangover],” he said. “I think we had short memory with that. I think if I didn’t throw the pick-six at the start of the game, it’s a different game.”

But it wasn’t just the early interception that made life difficult for the Troy graduate transfer.

After tweaking his wrist a bit last week, Smith, who finished the day with 232 yards and an interception on 15-41 passing, also came up favoring his right shoulder after taking a hit near the end of the second quarter. After halftime came to a close and the Kentucky defense took the field, Smith returned to the locker room to have x-rays done, leaving third-string quarterback Walker Wood as the likely option to take over the offense.

Once the Kentucky offense returned to the field, though, so did Smith, with the junior quarterback sprinting out of the locker room and into the UK huddle to resume his duties under center.

After the game, Smith said his injury didn’t affect his performance in the second half and that he was ready to roll against South Carolina next week.

“No, I went back in, didn’t miss a snap,” he said. “I was good. I was good. I thought we passed the ball pretty well in the second half. I’m 100% [for next week].”

In terms of any other factors that could have potentially played into his his underwhelming performance against the Bulldogs, Smith was quick to dismiss them all.

Miscommunication with the wide receivers or offensive line struggles? Nope.

“They were bringing some good blitzes today and they just got to me a few times,” he said. “We made some plays, they made some plays. That’s nothing on the o-line, that’s probably just me needing to get rid of the ball. We were good communication wise, there were no missed assignments or anything.”

The hostile environment in Kentucky’s first true road game of the season? The obnoxious cowbells? Not that, either.

“No, I played at Clemson in Death Valley when I was a freshman,” he said. “They had a good environment here, but Clemson was a little more loud.”

At the end of the day, it simply came down to a few throws he’d like to get back.

“I mean, I think we left some points out there, especially late in the game,” Smith said. “You’ve got to convert there. I had about two or three throws that I wish I could have back right now. I just wish I had better throws.”

While Smith was hard on himself, Kentucky running back AJ Rose added that in the first half, no one on the team played with the fire necessary to win in a tough road environment like the one they saw in Starkville.

“I mean the pick on the opening drive, that was a killer,” he said. “But we just played flat the whole first half. We’ve got to change that and get better, go watch some film.”

While it was difficult to play from behind right out of the gates, Rose said no one on the team converted on the opportunities handed to them late in the second half.

“It’s definitely frustrating. We can’t play catch-up in this league,” the junior running back said. “We had all the chances in the world to come back at the end of the game, but unfortunately we didn’t.”

Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran also came to Sawyer’s defense, saying there were inconsistencies all over the field, including on the sideline with him as a coach. While he said the pick-six was a major gut punch, the offensive play-caller feels he deserves the most criticism out of everyone.

“I obviously didn’t get them ready to play today, and that’s totally on me,” Gran said. “I’ll go back and look. I really felt that a week ago we went into that game and gave them a chance to win. I’ll go back and watch this film, but with the first pass [thrown by Smith that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown], there was inconsistency with a lot of things. Not just catching balls, not just throwing on time. With picking up protections, we weren’t as good there. We came out and I just didn’t have them ready to play, that’s on me, and that just can’t happen.”

While he wasn’t happy with the total offensive product, Gran was impressed with how the Wildcats responded in the second half and feels they will be ready to compete on the road at South Carolina next week.

“I did think that after being challenged, they came out and competed in the second half,” he said. “On the road, that’s a tough climb, and we still had chances. Convert on a couple of those redzone plays, and that’s a different football game, in my opinion. But woulda, shoulda, coulda, those don’t get it done. That’s on me, and we’ll go back as an offensive staff and they’ve got to be ready on the road in a hostile environment again.”

At the end of the day, Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops still has confidence in his starting quarterback to find success moving forward.

“He’s just got to play. We all still have a lot of confidence in him,” Stoops said. “The kid is banged up already. He’s got a wrist and a shoulder [injury]. He’s banged up, but he’s going to lay it on the line and everyone can relate to that, respect that. He’s going to make mistakes. It was his second start and he’s going to learn from it.”

(Photo: © Kelly Price | Mississippi State Athletics)

Scouting Report: Mississippi State Bulldogs

(Photo: © Kelly Price | Mississippi State Athletics)

The crushing loss to Florida is still fresh on everyone’s mind, but the season rolls on like a freight train coming downhill. Mark Stoops and his squad make the trip to Starkville for the fourth time and the hope is that he can finally get a victory in Davis Wade Stadium.

Nuts and Bolts

Before Dan Mullen arrived in Starkville, the Mississippi State Bulldogs were the kings of mediocrity in the SEC West. Former Washington State, Pittsburgh, and Texas A&M head coach Jackie Sherrill took over the program in 1991 and he followed six coaches who all had career losing records at the school. Despite an SEC West title and four AP Top 25 finishes, Sherrill would finish with just a .5oo record after 13 seasons.

Sylvester Croom stepped in the following year to become the first African-American head football coach in SEC history. The NFL assistant and former Alabama center went just 21-38 in five seasons with just one bowl appearance. After 2008, State convinced Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen to make the move to Starkville.

The Urban Meyer disciple quickly became the best coach in program history by recording 69 wins in nine seasons with three AP Top 25 finishes. Mullen had the Bulldogs in the national title hunt in 2014 and appeared to have another contender returning in 2018 before he left after the 2017 season. His presence still looms large in Starkville.

Newly appointed athletic director John Cohen quickly hired Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead once the job opened despite no ties to the south. Moorhead has surprised some on the recruiting trail, but his offenses have not been what they were cracked up to be through 16 games.

At Penn State, Moorhead had the No. 6 scoring offense in FBS in 2017 thanks to the work done by Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley. The heavy RPO scheme took the Big Ten by storm his two seasons in State College and Moorhead quickly became a huge hit.

With a roster loaded with legit NFL defensive talent at each level and an experienced quarterback, many thought Mississippi State could challenge Alabama for the SEC West last season. That was not the case.

On their way to an 8-5 season, the Bulldogs were upset three separate times and most notably lost to Dan Mullen in his return trip to Starkville. State put up a combined three points against Alabama and LSU on their way to finishing unranked after being upset by Iowa in the Outback Bowl. Despite a contract extension, there is some pressure on the former Fordham head coach this season.

This will be the 47th meeting in the series with the teams tied up at 23 games apiece. Kentucky has won two of the last three, but before that lost seven in a row. UK hasn’t won in Starkville since 2008.

Out in the desert, Mississippi State is a 6-point favorite with a total of 48.5. That’s a projected final score of around 27-21. UK is 3-0 against the spread this season with the over hitting each time. Mississippi State is 1-2 against the number with the over hitting each outing. The Bulldogs have been the betting favorite in the series every year since Mark Stoops arrived. The last time UK was favored was in Dan Mullen’s first season a decade ago.

Offensive Breakdown

It was clear that Joe Moorhead’s offense just didn’t work for Nick Fitzgerald last season. Despite dual-threat quarterback Keytaon Thompson having a bunch of talent blended with experience, the second-year head coach decided to go with something more reliable.

Tommy Stevens decided to grad transfer from Penn State after it became clear that Sean Clifford was going to win the QB1 job. It did not take long for him to pledge to Mississippi State. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound righty got off to a fast start throwing for two scores and averaging 7.9 yards per attempt in the season opening win over Louisiana. However, Stevens injured his shoulder the next week against Southern Miss and did not look like himself against Kansas State.

The Indianapolis native has been pulled in consecutive games and only completed 7 of his 15 passes last week. The grad transfer is clearly dealing with a shoulder issue and we’re not sure if he’ll be ready to play a full 60 minutes despite being listed as day-to-day. A true freshman has been used off the bench.

Garrett Shrader was a top-250 prospect and Moorhead’s first quarterback recruit. The plan was to redshirt the 6-foot-4, 220-pound freshman but an injury to Stevens and Keytaon Thompson’s unknown status has forced him into early action. Through two halves of football, Shrader has been the SEC’s least accurate passer.

The dual-threat is completing just 47.8 percent of his passes with a woeful 5.3 yards per attempt average. State could be in trouble if they have to turn to him, but he can do damage on the ground and isn’t afraid to put his body on the line.

This offense wants to toss the ball around the yard, but it is clear that State is dealing with some significant quarterback issues at the moment. The Bulldogs likely need to lean on the run, but that is not a bad thing when you have Kylin Hill to ride.

The Mississippi native was a huge recruiting win for Dan Mullen and he currently leads the SEC in rushing. Hill ranks third in the FBS in rush yards (431) and his 21.7 carries per game rank sixth. He has been a workhorse despite suffering an ankle injury against Southern Miss. Expect a heavy workload from No. 8 on Saturday because the other two backs on the depth chart have a combined 17 carries through three games.

The Mississippi State receivers really struggled last season and they might have had the worst receiving corps in the SEC in 2018. Most of those guys return, but this group still has a long way to go. Osirus Mitchell is turning into the go-to option.

The former low three-star prospect leads the team in receptions (13) and is putting up 16 yards per grab with three touchdowns. He has a next level frame (6-foot-5, 210 pounds) and will be a tough cover.

Outside of Mitchell, the Dogs are really scrambling. Junior college transfer Stephen Guidry was a big time recruit who just hasn’t panned out. Redshirt senior Deddrick Thomas operates out of the slot, but the long-time reserve has been inefficient. Farrod Green is more of a blocker than pass catcher at tight end. Big things were expected from Kansas State grad transfer Isaiah Zuber, but he has been a disappointment through three games.

Joe Moorhead is 16 games in and he’s still desperately searching for good, consistent wide receiver play.

In the trenches, redshirt senior Darryl Williams returns and slides down to center after starting at left guard. He figures to be one of the top centers taken in the upcoming NFL Draft. He wasn’t the only one who shifted around this offseason. Stewart Reese move from right tackle to right guard while Greg Eiland went from left tackle to right tackle. State has a lot of experience in this group.

Defensive Breakdown

Bob Shoop got his first FBS defensive coordinator gig when James Franklin was hired at Vanderbilt and since then he’s been running defenses. Shoop has worked at Vandy, Penn State, Tennessee and Mississippi State with only one of his defenses finishing outside the top-50. Four of his units have finished in the top-20 with last year’s group taking home the crown as the top defense in FBS. Despite all that, Eddie Gran has had a ton of success against him.

In three meetings with Gran calling plays, Kentucky is putting up 31 points per game and 6.6 yards per play. Despite never passing for more than 200 yards in a single game, UK is still averaging seven yards per rush attempt. For some reason, Gran has had Shoop’s number.

Lost off last year’s defense were three first-round picks and they’ve been dearly missed. Most notably Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat on the line. Those two were unblockable and this year State is really missing the havoc they created. So far the defensive line has only produced 3.5 tackles for loss and one sack despite having a two-deep littered with former blue-chip recruits. This is the biggest reason Bob Shoop’s defense ranks 11th or worse in the SEC in yards per play, yards per pass, scoring, and rushing.

At the second level, Erroll Thompson was a preseason All-SEC selection and is one of the finer Mike linebackers in college football. He’s second on the team in tackles and this will likely be the redshirt junior’s final season in college football. Kentucky better get him blocked when they run inside zone.

Former Kentucky target Brian Cole II made a pitstop at East Mississippi Community College after transferring from Michigan before landing in the Starkville. The senior plays the Star position (nickel) for the Bulldogs and has been very good this season. He leads the team in sacks and causes the most havoc of any individual player.

Leading tackler Jaquarius Landrews lines up at strong safety, but corner Cameron Dantzler is the name to know.

The junior missed last week’s game against Kansas State, but will be back this week. The Louisiana native was a second-team All-SEC member last season and look for him to be the guy State puts on Ahmad Wagner more often than not.

Special Teams Breakdown

Currently the Bulldogs rank 108th in the SP+ rankings thanks to some iffy play all around the board.

Kansas State recorded a kickoff return touchdown and gained 44 yards on punt returns last week. Kickoff specialist Scott Goodman has a touchback rate of just 42 percent. The Bulldogs have hit just 3-of-5 field goals and are averaging just 17.9 yards per kick return.

Malik Dear has been a highlight in the punt return department and that’s about the only good thing going for their special teams.

Keys to Victory

  • Despite Kylin Hill doing his thing on the ground, State has struggled to protect the passer. The offense currently has a sack rate of nine percent and that is no bueno. UK’s defense has a sack rate of 6.5 percent and that has a chance to bump up on Saturday.
  • It’s going to be a hot afternoon in Starkville and depth will be a question mark for both teams. Due to last week’s targeting penalty, T.J. Carter will miss the first half and Phil Hoskins is currently listed as questionable. That means Kordell Looney will be getting his first career start. UK could be calling on youngsters Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald,  Davoan Hawkins, and Qua Mahone to play early. They need to be up to the challenge to slow down the run.
  • In just about every statistical category, Mississippi State’s defense ranks towards the bottom of the SEC except one. The Bulldogs have been excellent in forcing takeaways having created 10 turnovers in just three games. That leads the SEC and ranks second nationally. Ball security has been an issue for Kentucky and if they don’t get it fixed it could cost them another close game.

Unexpected Suspensions

Just a week before Mississippi State kicked off the season, the school reached an agreement on a punishment with the NCAA due to a tutor taking exams and doing assignments for student-athletes. However, due to a government law, the names of the players are not allowed to be identified. After three games, we have a good idea who those players are.

Starting defensive tackle Lee Autry played against Southern Miss, but missed the two other games. Starting Will linebacker Willie Gay Jr. has missed all three games. These are the most prominent players that seemed to be tied to the suspensions, but there are others such as backup safety Marcus Murphy and former blue-chip receiver Devonta Jason.

The school is allowed to stagger these suspensions so it’s not a guarantee that these players will miss Saturday’s game. Add this in with the starting placekicker being suspended the first game for a DUI arrest and it has been quite the roster balancing act.


Kash Daniel responds to ankle-twisting allegations: “Absolutely not”

Kash Daniel and the rest of Kentucky’s defense spoke with media members Wednesday evening, so No. 56 was finally able to officially respond to allegations he purposefully twisted Kyle Trask’s ankle following one of the Gator’s failed two-point conversions last Saturday. Of course, he responded in the most ‘Kash Daniel’ way possible – definitively, and with some grit.

“Do I talk a lot of crap? Absolutely. Do I bump a dude here and there to get underneath his skin and talk while I’m doing it? Absolutely. That’s a part of my game; that’s what I do. But am I out there to deliberately hurt somebody? Absolutely not.”

A video began to surface online Sunday showing an incident between Daniel and Florida’s quarterback, which showed Daniel’s hand near Trask’s foot after the play. The video doesn’t give viewers a clear view of the incident, but it is clear Daniel eventually rips his hand from the pile before jawing with Trask. The two were quickly separated.

Since the allegations started, it’s been hard for Daniel to take the criticism without having the chance to properly respond.

“I’ve kept my mouth shut about it; I’ve been biting my tongue as long as I can.”

As far as the “dirty play” criticisms go, Daniel is hearing none of it.

“That’s something I actually hold close to me. I’m a victim of a dirty play. If you don’t believe me, I’ve got a plate and seven screws in my right ankle to prove that,” Daniel said, referencing an injury he had in high school.

Daniel went on to list some of his lasting injuries from throughout his football career before detailing what he says actually happened with Trask.

“This surgically-repaired hand has two screws in it, [and] if enough weight goes on it, it still hurts like a you-know-what. My hand is caught underneath here, I instantly get stepped on, I’m trying to move shit around, I pull my hand up there last second… I got it stuck under a lineman’s leg with all that weight on it. Then I pulled it free from that, kept moving stuff, kept hitting legs and finally pulled it through. Maybe [Trask] felt something weird – I don’t know. But I’m not out there to twist nobody’s ankle or hurt nobody. End of story.”

And what did the Gators have to say on the field after the incident?

“I heard something [number] 56, and I play with an F-you mentality. When I hear someone say my number, I’m going to turn around and say it right back to them.”

To watch Daniel’s re-enactment of his hand during the incident, check out Eli Gehn’s video for LEX18 below.