Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster has had 18 days – and still has five more to go – to prepare for Kentucky star playmaker Lynn Bowden Jr., but even that might not be enough.
During a media opportunity this week, Foster – who is set to step down after the Belk Bowl – acknowledged how difficult it will be to slow down Bowden in his final game suiting up as a Wildcat.
“You know, No. 1 [Lynn Bowden] is just a great athlete,” Foster said this week. “Great speed, with the ball in his hand just extremely dynamic.”
Bowden, who took home the Paul Hornung Award for the nation’s most versatile player, currently leads the SEC and ranks ninth nationally in all-purpose yardage, averaging 153.0 yards per game. One of only three players in the top nine nationally with rushing, receiving, punt return and kickoff return yards, the Kentucky quarterback was named a AP First Team All-American and All-SEC at the All-Purpose position.
“If you look at the stats, he’s their leading receiver, kick returner, punt returner and at quarterback their leading rusher,” Foster continued. “Just a dynamic athlete. He’s first-team All-American at utility, he won a national award recognized for that, just really special. Has breakaway speed, great vision and great strength. Has the ability to put his foot in the ground and get north-south and the ability to break tackles.”
While the focus will obviously be on slowing down Bowden, Foster was also quick to give credit to Kentucky’s trio of talented running backs – AJ Rose, Kavosiey Smoke, and Chris Rodriguez – and the success they have found all season long.
Factor that in with Bowden’s success on the ground, and it’s a dangerous combination.
“They have three outstanding tailbacks and they’re roughly averaging 160 yards per game just from that spot alone with three guys and then you throw the quarterback in the mix,” he said. “Since [Bowden] has been in there, they’re averaging 300 yards a game running the football, but they’re always getting extra hats. We’re always trying to get that extra free hitter, that alley player. They’re always trying to find a way they manipulate that guy through blocking him, gaining an extra hat or stressing those areas and that’s really been the challenge for us, trying to figure those things out.”
Kentucky’s physicality on the offensive line has also been a major factor in the team dominating on the ground game.
“I’ve been impressed by their physicality up front,” Foster said. “They may be one of the bigger offensive lines that we’ve seen all year. They kind of remind me of a Boston College or somebody like that who we’ve played and are big, physical, strong, move their feet well athletically and handle movement well. They’re doing what their strengths are, which is their running game with the running backs, and the quarterback now, and their physicality up front. It’s going to be a challenge.”
Foster likened Kentucky’s talented quarterback to two different players the Hokies have faced molded into one: Bryce Perkins of Virginia and James Graham of Georgia Tech.
Perkins has thrown for 3,215 yards and 18 touchdowns to go with 745 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground in this season, while Graham has managed 1,164 yards and 12 touchdowns through the air and 290 yards and three scores on the ground.
“It reminds me a bit of Virginia and Georgia Tech’s QB combined,” he said. “[Bowden] has [Bryce] Perkins’ ability, but he also has [James] Graham’s speed and explosiveness. He’s going to be a problem for us. I’ve told our kids that we need to get ready for a 60-minute middle drill. At the same time, we can’t be undisciplined on the back end. They only average a little over seven throws a game maybe since he’s been in there, but a lot of them are deep shots and that type of thing. Obviously, if we can stop the run and put the ball in his hands that way, that’s got to be one of our goals as far as a defense is control the run game if we can do that.”
Kentucky is set to take on Virginia Tech on Dec. 31 at 12:00 p.m. ET.