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Lynn Bowden’s rushing numbers topped Lamar Jackson’s Heisman campaign in 2016

Back in 2016, former Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson took the college football world by storm, finishing his sophomore campaign with 3,543 passing yards, 1,571 rushing yards, and a combined 51 touchdown scores en route to the Heisman trophy.

Whether you liked Louisville or not, fans across the nation tuned in every weekend to see the magic Jackson put on display every time he touched the football. That trend continued in the NFL, as the former Cardinal is now the overwhelming favorite to win league Most Valuable Player honors in his second year as the quarterback of the No. 1 seed Baltimore Ravens.

But what if I told you the magic we saw with Jackson every time he rushed the ball during his Heisman campaign would be somehow topped by another quarterback 70 miles down the road just three years later?

Now before Louisville fans burn me at the stake for comparing Kentucky receiver-turned-quarterback Lynn Bowden Jr. to Jackson – one of the greatest college football players in the history of the sport – let me preface by saying this doesn’t account for passing numbers on Jackson’s end, nor does it factor in Bowden’s numbers as a pure receiver or returner. The offenses were also obviously substantially different, with Kentucky utilizing the run game 90% of the time this year with Bowden in the backfield compared to Louisville’s 55% with Jackson in 2016.

But numbers are numbers, and if you take a look at both players as pure running threats, Bowden was more effective on the ground in 2019 than Jackson was during his Heisman campaign in 2016.

In eight games as a starter this season at Kentucky, Bowden Jr. rushed for 1,369 total yards and 13 touchdowns, good for an average of 171.13 yards, 7.96 yards per carry, and 1.625 touchdowns per game.

During Jackson’s Heisman campaign during his second year at Louisville, the former Cardinal averaged 120.84 rushing yards, 6.0 yards per carry, and 1.615 touchdowns per contest.

In four of Bowden’s eight starts, the Wildcat playmaker managed 195 yards or more on the ground four times, 200-plus yards three times, 230-plus yards twice, and 284 yards once. Jackson broke the 190 yard mark just twice, including one 200-plus yard game in his freshman season (226 vs. Texas A&M in the 2015 Music City Bowl).

Despite the significant difference in run-to-pass ratio, the Cardinals still managed 525 total rushing attempts in Bobby Petrino’s high-octane offense compared to 584 attempts for UK under Eddie Gran in 2019 (398 in eight games with Bowden in the backfield). During his time as starter, though, Bowden received 172 carries, roughly 43% of attempts. AJ Rose, Chris Rodriguez, and Kavosiey Smoke split up the majority 50%, finishing the year with 83 carries, 60 carries, and 55 carries in that span, respectively, while backup quarterbacks and reserve running backs made up the final 7% of carries.

In 2016, Jackson rushed the ball a whopping 49% of Louisville’s overall attempts, including 30 more rushes than passing attempts. Louisville ran 961 total plays in 2016, while Kentucky ran just 830 plays on the year, including 398 rushes and 38 passes for 436 total plays under Bowden. 54.5 plays per game with Bowden in the backfield compared to 73.9 plays per game under Jackson, which slightly compensates for the former Cardinal’s 31.5 passing attempts per contest.

More passing attempts and a higher rushing rate tells the story of Jackson’s gaudy numbers, but also shows just how ridiculously efficient and impressive Bowden was as a runner in 2019.

Focusing more specifically on Bowden’s numbers and the magnitude of his success in his third and final year as a Wildcat, the superstar playmaker broke Johnny Manziel’s all-time NCAA record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a bowl game with 233. Manziel is now second on the list with 229 rushing yards in the 2013 Cotton Bowl followed by none other than Lamar Jackson, who managed 226 yards on the ground in the 2015 Music City Bowl.

After his 233-yard outing on Tuesday afternoon, Bowden finished the season with three 200-yard rushing games, tying Moe Williams for most 200-yard rushing games in a season and career. It was also his seventh 100-yard rushing game, extending his single-season school record for the most 100-yard rushing games by a quarterback.

Following Kentucky’s 37-30 victory over Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl, UK head coach Mark Stoops said Bowden was “one of the best” to ever wear Kentucky across his chest, adding that if he played quarterback all season, he feels he would’ve been a Heisman finalist.

“Really, nothing he does surprises me,” the Kentucky head coach said. “Everything he does, he competes, he cares about his teammates and, you know, you can’t ever count him out. … If he would have played like that, if we would’ve started him at quarterback, there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that he would be in New York at the Heisman [Trophy Presentation]. You can’t take away from Joe [Burrow] and people that were there, incredible players, but this guy right here is one of the best players in the country. He showed that.”

After taking a closer look at the numbers and comparing him to a previous Heisman winner, Stoops has a valid point.

Not bad for a wide receiver.

Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

10 Comments for Lynn Bowden’s rushing numbers topped Lamar Jackson’s Heisman campaign in 2016

  1. Bobbum Man
    9:22 pm December 31, 2019 Permalink

    I really really wish this guy would have had a full season at QB, he probably would have set records that maybe never got touched

  2. Bluebloodtoo
    10:00 pm December 31, 2019 Permalink

    Yeah, the full season would make this argument a lot easier. Bowden certainly earned respect, but without a full season of stats it’s hard to make a comparison.

  3. damage_control
    10:11 pm December 31, 2019 Permalink

    One of the greatest football players every to play the sport? Ummm…I think we are a long way away from making that assumption at this point.

    • dcforuk
      11:29 pm December 31, 2019 Permalink

      He did say “…..greatest COLLEGE football players…..” Plus, his NFL start helps elevate his college career…

    • damage_control
      2:34 pm January 1, 2020 Permalink

      Ok- point still stands. He’s not one of the greatest college players ever. His teams won a grand total of jack squat. His COLLEGE career is great but not one of the best ever.

    • damage_control
      2:40 pm January 1, 2020 Permalink

      57% career completion percentage doesn’t say all time great to me. There’s a reason he went at the end of the first round. He’s improved his passing accuracy while in the NFL, but let’s not act like it wasn’t an issue coming out of college.

  4. BTownUKFan
    12:29 am January 1, 2020 Permalink

    I thought Lynn would be a big play maker for us this year but after he dropped a couple passes early I was like…wut?!? Who knew ?? Amazing finish to his career, I’m not going to say anything that hasn’t already been said about him. Put this team on his back, sacrifice his receiving abilities to take on the QB position. Posted stats that other QBs took 12 or 13 games to match. Amazing, amazing season and his growth as a person is so obvious. Best of luck to Lynn, I hope he has a long career in the NFL. I’m sure where ever he goes he will give it his best. GO CATS !!

  5. Theymademesignup
    2:16 am January 1, 2020 Permalink

    Extremely ignorant post. Who cares that he beat Lamar’s rushing yards lol? Jackson also had like 3500 passing yards. I love Lynn and appreciate everything he did this year, but what the hell is your point?

    • 4everUKBlue
      8:57 am January 1, 2020 Permalink

      It was just written to flush people like you out. We’ve been expecting you.

  6. BigBlue4EVA
    12:50 pm January 1, 2020 Permalink

    It’s obvious that given a full 12 games that Bowden would have smashed Jacksons rushing numbers and won the Heisman in a run away vote . He also displayed his superior passing ability during the final drive against VA Tech . Plus Bowden put up his number agains SEC defenses which are as good or better than most NFL defenses. And way tougher than the ACC.