I understand the saying, but I’m not exactly thrilled when the term “Same old Kentucky Football” is used in a derogatory manner. Matter of fact, I take it quite personally. Today, and over the past couple of seasons, that phrase has evolved into a whole new meaning. The “Same New Kentucky Football” has a two-year record of 18-8 with multiple players winning national awards and named to All-American teams. “The New Kentucky Football” executes an 18-play, 85-yard fourth quarter scoring drive to win a bowl game. The New Kentucky Football replaces legends with legends and doesn’t simply hope for a bowl game, it expects to win in the postseason. The New Kentucky Football closes the season with four consecutive wins by an average score of 42-16.
Kentucky had a concerning 2-3 record with its top two quarterbacks on the injured reserve after the first five games of the season. It was staring down a losing record. Six wins seemed virtually impossible. No problem. No backing down. Stoops simply went back to work. Made adjustments by inserting a receiver at quarterback to run behind one of, if not the best offensive lines in college football. With Lynn Bowden under center, Kentucky averaged 278 rush yards per game which is good enough to lead the SEC. It earned a reputation for playing bully ball by pounding opposing defenses into the turf.
Defensive coordinator Brad White led an SEC upper-echelon unit after losing a plethora of talented players. The New Kentucky Football team didn’t quit or make excuses after facing early season adversity. There was no backing down from Stoops’ team. Quite the contrary actually. It fought back with vengeance. Kentucky thrived on disrespect in 2019. The frequent underdogs pounced during bad weather games.
One of the main Belk Bowl storylines focused on Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster coaching in his final game. I’ve heard the television broadcast made that point quite clear. However, it was Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran that got the best of Tuesday’s chess match on turf. Tech was allowing 23 points and 123 rush yards per game. Lynn Bowden had 34 carries for 233 yards and two touchdowns. UK scored 37 points and rolled up 404 total yards on 68 offensive plays. Virginia Tech didn’t seem to respect Kentucky throughout its time in Charlotte. That pregame bravado was quieted following the Bowden to Ali touchdown pass and Jordan Wright’s 28-yard scoop and score.
Lynn Bowden's game winner to Josh Ali. #BBN
(Tom Leach ??) pic.twitter.com/5VCVqbMyb7
— KY Clips (@KY_Clips) December 31, 2019
— Bradley McKee (@Bradley_B_Roll) December 31, 2019
Lynn Bowden is now in elite company in Wildcat history. Vince Marrow tweeted, “Respect to all players that played @UKFootball @LynnBowden_1 is the best that has put on the Blue. Go Big Blue.” I have to agree with the Big Dog. Bowden rushed for 1,369 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns in eight games as the starting quarterback. I’ve never witnessed a player quite like Lynn Bowden in the four decades that I’ve followed this team. There are very few irreplaceable players. Uniquely talented with unprecedented production, Lynn Bowden is irreplaceable.
Joe Burrow deservingly won the Heisman Trophy. But, can you imagine if Bowden had played quarterback for 12 games this season? His numbers could have warranted at least a trip to the Big Apple. Mark Stoops thinks so:
“If he would have played like that, if we would have started him at quarterback, there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that he would be in New York at the Heisman. You can’t take away from Joey and people that were there, incredible players, but this guy right here is one of the best players in the country.”
Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente had this to say about Bowden:
“It’s what he’s done to everybody. I mean, he’s a great player. He’s competitive, he’s tough, strong, never looks like he’s in a hurry out there. He’s patient, explosive. I mean, he’s a physical player. He’s a competitor.”
Observations from Charlotte
— The game was chippy. By now, most of you have seen videos from earlier in the week and in pregame. These two teams really didn’t like each other which led to a highly competitive bowl game. Tuesday’s contest was physical. Hits were loud and hard. I loved every minute of it.
— Virginia Tech was ranked 9th in the nation in red-zone defense. Kentucky was 3/3 in red-zone trips including two touchdowns. This is what’s often described as “Winning Football.”
— UK’s pass defense entered the Belk Bowl ranked 4th in the nation by allowing 172-yards per game and just 7 touchdowns. Va Tech QB Hendon Hooker was 12/22 for 110 yards, and 2 touchdowns. He was sacked once by Calvin Taylor Jr. Kentucky got stops in crucial moments of the game.
— Kentucky won Time of Possession by controlling the clock for 35:46 compared to Tech’s 24:14. When it counted the most, the Cats had the football for 11:09 in the 4th quarter.
— UK was (3/3) 100% on 4th down conversions.
— Kentucky was penalized 6 times for 65 yards. Virginia Tech picked up just 2 flags for 30 yards. Replays seemed to last for an excessive amount of time. Two targeting calls were made but voided by replay. The AJ Rose fumble was frustrating due to lacking video angles to overturn the call on the field.
— The Wildcats held Tech to 36.3% on 3rd down. The Hokies were converting 38.9% for the season. UK was 6/13 or 46% on 3rd down. The Cats were 38% coming into Tuesday.
— Kicker Matt Rufollo was 4/4 on PATs and 1/1 on field goals. His effort influenced the game’s final outcome. Recent memories of shaky kicking led to concern prior to every kick. Ruffolo was perfect on the day.
— Josh Ali had 4 receptions for 52 yards and 1 touchdown.
— LB Kash Daniel was the team’s tackle leader with 8. I’m happy that Kash’s last game as a Wildcat was one of his better performances.
— QB Lynn Bowden rushed for 233 yards. This mark is the best for a quarterback in the history of bowl games.
— Last week I wrote about Virginia Tech linebacker Rayshard Ashby and how he was Bud Foster’s “Rock” on his defense. Ashby was as good as advertised after registering 14 tackles, .5 QB sacks, and 2.5 tackles for loss.
— Hokie RB Deshawn McClease rushed for 132 yards off 11 carries (11.5 yards per carry).
As you’ve read in multiple KSR posts, Lynn Bowden has been absolutely amazing in 2019. He was also exceptional in his team’s Belk Bowl victory. Mark Stoops said this about his do-it-all player:
“I just think you just see his competitive nature on full display every snap. Lynn is one tough guy. You know, on the field, off the field, you name it, he’s tough. He’s had circumstances in his life that he’s had to overcome, he’s done that, and we’re just very proud of him. Just ultra-competitive, the way he plays. It’s just great respect.”
Mark Stoops and the “New Kentucky Football” program have gained respect around the SEC and nation. With 18 or more starters returning, 2020 promises to be special. An 18-8, two-year record and back-to-back bowl wins bring expectation. There will be plenty of time to discuss next season. But for now, let’s enjoy this team and its bowl win in Charlotte.