It was Aristotle, the Greek Philosopher who coined the phrase, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This phrase works well in sports because the team achieves more than the individual.
Sometimes a player brings a team together with his selfless actions, positive spirit, devotion to the team, endless drive for team success, and sacrifice of his own future success for that team success.
This brings us to the University of Kentucky football team which often plays in the shadow of its basketball team. Many sports fans view Kentucky as a basketball school. That doesn’t sit well with the players on the football team. The football team came into the 2018 season with high hopes and a few marquee players. Benny Snell was the workhorse running back, and the defense was led by All American Josh Allen. They were the team leaders.
Kentucky began the year with 5 wins, among them was a win against #25 Florida (on the road). This was extra nice because Kentucky had lost 31 games in a row against the Gators. One of the players to step up in that game was Lynn Bowden Jr. a seldom used slot receiver who played in 12 games as a freshman but had a mere 17 receptions, 210 yards, and zero TDs. He started to assert himself in this game, though.
This 17 yard reception was just a little slip screen, but it showed some elusiveness and the good speed to get down the sideline and move the chains. He started the year with 5 receptions in the first game but only had 17 yards, a horrific 3.4 yard average. That was about to change.
This was a 3rd and 16 play that no one figured would see a seldom used slot receiver go deep. It worked out well for the Cats. The 54 yard TD catch was Bowden’s first. He finished the day with 4 receptions for 79 yards in the 27-16 Wildcats win.
Kentucky followed with a win against an overmatched Murray State squad and against #14 Mississippi State. Things started to change as the following week they lost a close game against Texas A&M at College Station. Yet Bowden began to show his versatility with another highlight game changing play.
The TD gave the Wildcats the lead and the team confidence in its new found weapon. Bowden works out of the slot, but he is not your ordinary little slot guy. He is nearly 5’11” and a sturdy 204 lbs. He has elusiveness and vision in the open field with speed and arm tackle breaking proficiency.
The following week was a lackluster win against an undermanned Vanderbilt squad. Kentucky squeaked out a 14-7 win. Bowden had one of the scores from close range.
The team was starting to depend on Bowden for offense. He was getting better looks and more targets. Despite the win, all wasn’t well for the Wildcats. Much of the early season swagger was gone, and the team looked listless.
The following week the Wildcats were on the road at Faurot Field in Columbia, Missouri. They were down 14-3 with about 5 and a half minutes to go in the 4th quarter. The team needed a spark. Someone had to step up, but who could they go to? Benny Snell was held in check this game with only 67 yards on 19 carries, a 3.5 yard average.
This game belonged to Bowden. He came into the game with 30 receptions for 291 yards in 7 games. The slot receiver had 13 receptions for 166 yards in this one. He had begun to come of age.
The special teams had pinned the Tigers deep in their zone, and the defense had done its job by making the Tigers go three and out. They had to punt.
“I’m like, ‘Man, coach, I’m going back there. I’m about to return it.’ I just did it.” Bowden said. Head coach Mark Stoops was unaware that Bowden had never returned a punt in a game before. Darin Hinshaw who was one of Kentucky’s co-offensive coordinator could not remember Bowden ever fielding a punt before; even in practice.
“I ain’t ask.” Bowden said, “I told him I was going back there.”
This is what happened.
The score got them closer, and when the defense again returned the ball to the Wildcats offense they drove the field then won the game 15-14 with a TD on the last play of the game. Kentucky the year 9-3 and then faced a quality Penn State team in the Citrus Bowl. Bowden ended up leading the team in receiving with 67 receptions for 745 yards and 5 TDs. He added this play in the Citrus Bowl.
Kentucky won the bowl game 27-24. Bowden ended up leading the the NCAA in punt return scores with 2. He had a total of 5 punt returns all year.
Entering 2019 the team was in a state of flux. Benny Snell was now a Steeler, and Josh Allen was chasing QBs for the Jaguars. They still had their leading receiver in Bowden returning, but the rest of the team was a question mark.
To make matters worse the team lost it’s #3 QB Nik Scalzo in training camp to a torn ACL. Starting QB Terry Wilson tore his Patella tendon during the team’s second game against Eastern Michigan. Sawyer Smith took over, but he was dealing with a broken wrist and a separated shoulder. The offense struggled mightily in loses to Florida, Mississippi State, and South Carolina. Sawyer Smith had a competition percentage of 45.2.
Bowden was a QB in high school, albeit mostly a running QB. He had also taken some wildcat snaps as a freshman.
“I was just tired of losing, so I told coach during the South Carolina game, just give me a shot,” Bowden said. “And he did.” On the final drive of the game Bowden went in as QB then drove his team to the only TD of the game for Kentucky.
The following week was a bye week for the Wildcats so they installed a new offense during the break with Lynn Bowden Jr. as the QB. Bowden had just started to show NFL teams what he could do as a receiver late in 2018. Now with poor QB play and injuries he sacrificed any chance of building an NFL resume for the sake of helping his team win games.
Bowden’s future in the NFL wasn’t going to be as a QB. and he knew that. He didn’t care. He had one thing on his mind. “I just wanted to win, for real, we had the better chance at us winning with me at quarterback, so that’s what I wanted to do” Bowden said.
In his first game as QB for the Wildcats he ran for 196 yards and 2 TDs while passing for 76 yards and a TD. This was the winning score in the 24-20 Wildcat victory.
The next week the team could not hang with a top 10 Georgia squad, but Bowden had 99 yards rushing with a 5.8 average. The team had few receivers who could get open so the heavy lifting was handled by Bowden.
The following week against Missouri Bowden ran the bal 21 times for 204 yards and two TDs averaging nearly 10 yards a carry. Here he takes advantage of the defense in a 33 yard TD run that cemented the win for Kentucky.
With little production from the passing game, teams would gang up on Bowden by putting 8 or 9 men in the box to stop the run.
Bowden is elusive and a slippery player who can make people miss. He followed this game with 114 yards against Tennessee, 110 against Vanderbilt and 129 against Tennessee-Martin while averaging over 6.5 yards a carry. He had this memorable run that showed not only his desire but some decent power to get into the end zone. Watch him churn the legs to drive through the tackles.
The last game of the regular season was against Louisville. Bowden ran the ball 22 times for 284 yards and 4 TDs (12.9 average). This play broke the spirit of Louisville. The Wildcats went on to win going away 45-13.
This play show a lot of Bowden’s skill set as he finds a hole in the line, cuts back to get through the line, breaks an arm tackle, accelerates past a defender into the clear, uses his vision and elusiveness to weave through the entire defense, and bursts into the end zone.
Bowden is not a player with top end speed, but he isn’t slow. This type of play shows that vision and elusiveness can get you big plays just like blazing speed does.
The Wildcats were invited to play Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, North Carolina. During the warmup long before the game players from Virginia Tech were harassing Bowden, telling him how they were going to “bust him up.”
Things escalated to shouting with a Virginia Tech lineman coming toward Bowden who promptly punched the lineman in the mouth. The incident happened more than an hour before the game so there was no punishment placed on Bowden.
The game was close all the way, a seesaw affair. Here is Bowden exploding through the line for the lead early in the game.
Because of the pregame hostilities this was a emotional, hard fought game that neither side wanted to lose.
Just like in the earlier game Bowden used his guile and vision to tie the game early in the 3rd quarter with a highlight run. The Hokies were a good defensive team that ranked 46th out of 130 teams in 2019. They didn’t expect to get dissected by a WR turned QB.
The Hokies were able to go on two long drives after this score on offense that led to field goals. They took a 6 point lead into the waning moments of the game. With under 20 seconds left in the game Bowden had 233 yards rushing, but his team was still trailing. From the 13 yard line he was able to beat Virginia Tech with his arm.
“We’re down by 6, and it’s the last drive, I’m talking to him on the phone before we’re about to start an eight-minute drive which he wound up throwing the game-winning touchdown with 15 seconds to go. But he said on the phone, ‘Coach, put the team on my shoulders. I’ll get it in the end zone. But put it on my shoulders. Put it on me.’ I think he ran (or threw) the ball 15 times of the 18 snaps that we ran on that drive. And then he threw the winning touchdown, which just shows you what kind of moxie he has,” Hinshaw said.
Bowden was able to take a team that was 2-3 to a bowl game win and an 8-5 record with heart, toughness, moxie and little to no talent surrounding him. Bowden played only 5 games as a WR in 2019 but still led the team in receptions (30) and yards (348). He also led them in rushing 1,468 yards with all but 99 yards that he gained in the last 8 games.
“I knew the whole playbook from outside receiver to inside receiver from the linemen, tight end, running back and quarterback,” Bowden said. “It wasn’t really hard. They just put extra stuff in there because they knew nobody could stop me. You tell me. They’re stacking nine in the box every game, and we’re going for almost 500 yards a game.”
Bowden was 6-2 as a starting QB, and because of his achievements he was awarded the Paul Hornung trophy as the nation’s most versatile player. Edie Gran who was one of Kentucky’s co-offensive coordinators put it succinctly, “He wanted to win, that’s it. The kid is as fierce a competitor as I’ve ever been around. His mentality was ‘give me the ball.’ He felt like he could play quarterback. He felt like he could play anything.”
“You could see after that Arkansas game that he thanked the team for playing hard behind him, and he said, ‘We’re going to take this thing to another level.’ And he was right. The team rallied around him tremendously. We were 1 yard away from beating Tennessee. The Georgia game was — Georgia’s good, and the bottom line is it was a monsoon, and we were just a little bit short against Georgia. We were tied there midway through the third quarter. The Georgia game was the biggest game where I thought he was so explosive against a defense that really shut everyone down. The team knew how good of an athlete he was, they just didn’t know how good he would be all the time at quarterback,” Hinshaw said.
With the sacrifices Bowden made plus with the beating he took to get his team wins many scouts view Bowden as the toughest player in the Draft. One was reported to say he liked the fact that Bowden threw the punch. It shows he won’t be intimidated. When asked how he would answer questions about the punch from teams Bowden said, “I just tell them the whole thing, I regret it. I did it. We won.”
Bowden is probably going to be a day 3 pick as a receiver and return man. He is truly the player whose “whole” is greater than the sum of his parts. He is a leader, a team captain who put a team on his back and took the to a bowl win to his own detriment. He is the kind of selfless, do it all player that every team needs.
Jamison Crowder had injury problems in the past when he was in Washington. Bowden can be a slot backup, a dogged special team player, and a Wildcat QB (who can really throw the ball). He also has some experience at outside receiver. He runs jet sweps, bubble screens, swing passes, and screen plays. He is elusive with excellent vision that allows him to weave his way through defenses.
Like this play...
This is the type of player that wise GMs pick up later in the Draft, a versatile playmaker and high character player who can fill many roles. He is one of many late round possibilities if the Jets were to trade down and stockpile some late round picks.
That is what I think.
What do you think?