Former Kentucky wide receiver/quarterback/do-it-all man Randall Cobb is a Wildcat legend for several reasons, but none are more important than the time he took over as the primary quarterback during his freshman season.
Over 10 years later, Kentucky is once again facing a similar situation – one where a multi-talented wide-out might need to slide under center as the team’s “Swiss Army knife”. After five games in the 2019 season, junior Lynn Bowden Jr. is going to have to channel his inner Cobb as the Wildcats most dangerous offensive weapon.
But before we get into the discussion of the similarities between Bowden and Cobb, it’s important that we point out some key differences from that 2008 team coached by Rich Brooks compared to this 2019 version led by Mark Stoops.
The 2008 season started out with sophomore Mike Hartline as the starting quarterback, and as the season went along, he began to share quarterback responsibilities with Cobb. Cobb would eventually take over as the “official” starting quarterback for the last four games of the regular season. Hartline was not injured during this time, rather splitting duties with Cobb before Hartline started the final game of the season against East Carolina in the Liberty Bowl after Cobb was sidelined with an injury (UK named Hartline the Most Outstanding Offensive Player in that victory). That team didn’t lose it’s starting quarterback to an ACL injury (like with Terry Wilson) and didn’t bring in Cobb because the backup was also injured (like with Sawyer Smith). Cobb was simply just the best option the Wildcats could put on the field and it paid off – well, sort of.
Cobb threw for 542 yards as a freshman on 52-99 passing to go along with two touchdowns and five interceptions. In the four games he started at quarterback, Cobb threw four picks and one touchdown. Kentucky went 1-3 in those games with the lone win coming in a 14-13 nailbiter against the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Hartline did not play in two of those losses. None of this is to say that what Cobb did wasn’t amazing (because a true freshman coming in and switching to the most important position in the game during the middle of the season is nothing short of a miracle, plus, he added five rushing touchdowns on 56 attempts during that four-game stretch), but it’s important to note how different these two situations are before we get into comparisons. Kentucky didn’t have quite the overall talent on that 2008 roster that they do now. Cobb was a freshman splitting duties with the original starter. Bowden is a junior that might have to start at quarterback because there isn’t any other option.
Cobb didn’t play much quarterback for his remaining two seasons as Hartline assumed the starting position once again (Morgan Newton stepped in during Hartline’s junior season in 2009 while he missed six games with a knee injury). Instead, Cobb moved back to his natural position at wide receiver (mixed in with plenty of reps as the running back) and went on to earn more accolades and honors during his sophomore and junior seasons than most Wildcat football players could ever hope to see. Over the course of the 2009-2010 seasons, Cobb threw the ball only 23 times, completing 10 of them for 147 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions.
But back to Bowden, who finds himself in an entirely different situation than Cobb. In Saturday night’s embarrassing road loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks, Bowden threw the ball only twice, completing both passes for seven total yards. During his roughly two-and-a-half seasons at Kentucky, Bowden has thrown a total of nine passes for six completions, 131 yards, no touchdowns, and two picks. At this point in his college career, Cobb had already thrown the ball over 100 times, most of Bowden’s reps at quarterback have ended in running plays. So the burning question is this: can Bowden replicate what Cobb was able to do?
If he can continue to do things like this, on top of being a realistic threat as a passer, we might already have our answer.
If Lynn Bowden is going to be the Kentucky QB going forward, this is going to be exciting to watch. pic.twitter.com/tKXLZev9cS
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) September 29, 2019
There is no denying that Bowden is an elite athlete. He’s the team’s top returner, the most dangerous threat with the ball in his hands, and shiftier than almost any player in college football. He meets the prerequisites of what it takes to mirror Cobb’s talents and production. But again, we are dealing with completely different situations here. Luckily, the Cats are facing a bye week before taking on the Arkansas Razorbacks – a game that no one thought would end up being a “must-win.” There is time to game plan and get Sawyer Smith back into a reasonably healthy form. No matter how well Bowden plays, he can’t do everything for the Cats and still expect to win. Cobb needed help from Hartline, Dicky Lyons, Tony Dixon, Alfonso Smith, Moncell Allen, and Derrick Locke to make it all work.
The beauty of that is Kentucky has the talent outside of Bowden. AJ Rose and Kavosiey Smoke both average over five yards per run as the primary backs. Josh Ali has been consistent and Ahmad Wagner is basically a cheat code at this point as one of the most efficient receivers in all of football. The receiving core just can’t keep dropping passes. Plus the offensive line has been steady outside of the SC game and has done an overall solid job of protecting whoever is dropping back in the pocket. Bowden will have the opportunity to succeed. He led Kentucky on the only drive of the night that resulted in a touchdown. We just don’t know for sure yet how good of a passer Bowden actually is.
Lynn Bowden is the 2nd FBS player since 2000 to have at least 6 rushing attempts, 3 receptions, 3 kickoff returns, and 2 passing completions in a single game (Kalen Ballage, Arizona State vs. Oregon, October 29th, 2016)
— Corey Price (@coreyp08) September 29, 2019
“He knows every position. The reason why we can move Lynn around is because he knows everything,” Eddie Gran said in regards to Bowden following Saturday night’s loss. “He’ll know where they’re supposed to be. That’s the really good thing about him. He’s gonna know a concept. If he’s that guy and we expand that right there, then you do that. He was pretty electric when he was back there. It’s what he did in high school. It’s not just hitches. He throws the deep ball well. He can throw inside, he can throw a dig, so I think his package can certainly be expanded.”
Is Bowden going to be asked to do too much? If Smith isn’t ready to go against Arkansas, how much responsibility will Bowden be tasked with? *Side note: if the coaching staff was that reluctant to play Walker Wood despite everything that happened on Saturday, that’s all you need to know about the third-stringer.* The constant threat of playing out of the Wildcat keeps defenses on edge, but only if the initiator has enough energy to do so for an entire game. Bowden is a top-tier athlete, but like everyone else, he has his limits. I have a feeling we might soon find how far those limits reach.
Cobb was a once-in-a-generation type player. Bowden needs to be for the sake of Kentucky’s 2019 season.