The Kentucky Wildcats (7-5) meet the Virginia Tech Hokies (8-4) on Tuesday at noon in the Belk Bowl. It is the 20th all-time meeting between the two schools from neighboring states with the Wildcats holding the edge 11-6-2. The last meeting was in 1987, which UK won 14-7 in Lexington.
: @HokiesFB vs. @UKFootball— Belk Bowl (@belkbowl) December 8, 2019
: 12/31/2019#BelkBowl #BestBowl pic.twitter.com/RfUOnOfeTF
The Wildcats present a unique challenge for legendary retiring defensive coordinator Bud Foster. While UK ranks just No. 77 in total offense, the Wildcats are led by junior receiver/quarterback Lynn Bowden, and rank No. 4 in rushing offense. Yes, you read that correctly, Bowden is a receiver and a quarterback. Bowden was moved to quarterback after Terry Wilson and Sawyer Smith were both injured.
The injuries forced Kentucky to get creative on offense and it worked. Bowden, who moved to the quarterback position in mid-October, began the season with 30 receptions in UK’s first five games. While the Wildcats struggled once Bowden went under center, they decided to go with a non-traditional offense and Bowden thrived.
In seven games at quarterback, Bowden completed just 29 of 62 passes for 330 yards and two touchdowns. Not impressed? Ok, Bowden also carried the ball 151 times for 1,235 yards and 11 touchdowns. Now do I have your attention?
The offense that Kentucky is currently running is one that has given Foster fits in the past. And we know running quarterbacks have traditionally been a thorn in Foster’s side. Bowden is completely different. This was a legit NFL prospect at wide receiver who transformed himself into a dynamic multi-purpose threat with his play this season.
When I see KY WR Lynn Bowden, I can't help but think of the way Randall Cobb was used in Lexington. Bowden's bigger but is still powerful and elusive with the ball in his hands. Picked this play as it shows body control and footwork NFL scouts want in an early pick #SnapScout pic.twitter.com/gBiNJExzdW— Chad Reuter (@chad_reuter) December 24, 2019
In the regular-season finale against Louisville, Bowden carried the ball 22 times for a ridiculous 284 yards and four scores. He is Kentucky’s offense and is a treat to watch. Le
Virginia Tech’s defense will have to be sound in gap responsibilities on Tuesday. We saw in the loss at Virginia the Hokies were not disciplined in defending Bryce Perkins. Perkins burned them repeatedly in the first half. You can’t do that against Bowden. For as good as Perkins is, Bowden is a different type of athlete.
Bud Foster says stopping Lynn Bowden is “going to be a problem” for Virginia Tech https://t.co/xWX8Yiurbq— Melissa Phillips (@Melissa08581871) December 27, 2019
The Wildcats have some talent in the backfield, too. Junior Asim Rose is second on the team with 757 yards, freshman Kavosiey Smoke is third with 609 yards and freshman Christopher Rodriguez is fourth with 515 yards. The Hokies better be prepared.
The fact that All-ACC corner Caleb Farley may miss the game due to injury shouldn’t too much of a factor because this game will be won up front as UK doesn’t really threaten Tech’s secondary.
Offensively, the Hokies are pretty healthy. Quarterback Hendon Hooker was a revelation after taking over the starting quarterback position against Miami. The offense—and the team—took off under Hooker’s leadership. A true dual-threat, Hooker was impressive as both a runner and a passer for the Hokies in 2019.
The Wildcats have a pair of solid pass-rushers in the massive 6’9”, 310-pound Calvin Taylor and Jamar Watson. The pair has combined for 14 sacks this season.
UK is No. 21 in total defense, playing in the rugged SEC. They are No. 59 against the run, as opponents average over 151 yards per game and 4.4 yards per attempt. Expect the Hokies to use Hooker to get the running game going.
Kentucky is much better against the pass, ranking No. 4 as opponents are averaging just 172 yards per game. This will be a challenge. The Hokies need to go to a quick game with tight ends James Mitchell and Dalton Keene and slot receiver Tayvion Robinson. Then set up shots to star receivers Tre Turner and Damon Hazelton.
The two key matchups in this game are clearly Virginia Tech’s front seven against Bowden and UK’s rushing attack and Hooker and VT’s pass-catchers against Kentucky’s secondary. If the Hokies can limit Bowden’s big plays, then they will send Foster into retirement with a much-deserved win.
However, if Bowden runs wild then winning this game could be an uphill battle for Virginia Tech.