By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
We all knew that Lynn Bowden, Jr. had talent. A player that comes out of Ohio, a hotbed of football talent, as one of the most highly sought after high school players in his class is going to be able to perform well at any university in any conference.
So the fact that Lynn Bowden is performing well as a running quarterback in Offensive Coordinator Eddie Gran’s revamped offense is no surprise. Maybe to the extent he has performed is a bit of a surprise. For a player with no collegiate quarterback experience to step into that role with little time to prepare and still amass 499 yards rushing and 149 yards passing in the last three UK games is pretty remarkable.
But as remarkable as that is and as important as Lynn Bowden Jr has been to Kentucky Football in the last three games, two of which were wins by the way, this article is about another facet of the team that has been equally remarkable and important. If you hadn’t guessed yet the part of the team I am referring to is the defense.
You know, those 11 guys that have lined up against two of the more prolific scoring offenses in the SEC in Missouri and Georgia in the last three games and held their offenses to well below their normal scoring average.
Georgia’s offense, led by senior quarterback Jake Fromm and highly touted running back D’Andre Swift, could only manage 21 points against the Kentucky defense. Granted, the weather was terrible that night and both teams struggled to throw the ball but UK’s defense did manage to bend but not break in allowing only three touchdowns – and one of those came after a shanked 15-yard punt that gave the Bulldogs excellent field position to start their drive.
And in the Missouri game — you know, the Missouri that has former Clemson Tiger Kelly Bryant as their quarterback — the Wildcat defense held the Tiger offense that was averaging 32 points per game to only one touchdown. And that touchdown came on a seventy-four yard pass and run early in the third quarter. If it had not been for that missed assignment by the defense they could have pitched a shutout against the Tigers.
And I know some are still skeptical because of the weather conditions, the injuries to opponents key players or maybe just because the Wildcat’s football history still hangs around like a ghost on Halloween but here are a couple of other statistics that might help erase the skepticism.
Up until that 74-yard catch and run by Missouri’s Tyler Badie the UK defense was one of only seven teams in NCAA Division 1 Football that had not given up a pass play of more than 40 yards. And that’s not all. The Kentucky defense is tied with Iowa and Penn State as the only teams that have not given up more than 30 points in a game for 12 straight games.
That statistic is huge and here’s why. The 2019 Wildcat’s offense is averaging only 21 points per game. Only one other team in the SEC – -Vanderbilt at 18 points per game — has an offense that is less of a scoring threat than Kentucky. Those offensive numbers (no pun intended) are a huge deficit to try to overcome for a team defense that is breaking in an all new defensive backfield and several new linebackers.
So, seeing that experienced guys on the defensive line have had to step up while the rest of the defensive team was learning and then watching the defense players improve from game to game as a team – and individually – has been almost as exciting as watching Lynn Bowden run the ball.
Here’s why. As underclassmen like Deandre Square, Chris Oats and Jared Casey get more reps at the linebacker spot and freshmen like Taj Dodson and Jamari Brown gain live game experience in the secondary that can only pay big dividends for the Kentucky defense going forward. If the defense continues to keep teams from scoring – -they have only given up 16 points per game in the last three games — it will put less pressure on the offense to produce points at a high rate.
If the opponent can only manage to score 16 points per game while the Kentucky offense is putting 21 points per game on the scoreboard a person doesn’t have to be a math genius to see that generally Kentucky should come out on the winning side of that equation.
One more point to make about the Kentucky defense. They can stack up well against any team left in their schedule in the Southeastern Conference. The UK defense is currently 24th in the country in scoring defense. Six teams in the SEC are ranked higher than UK. They are Georgia, Alabama , Auburn, Missouri, LSU and Florida. Notice that Tennessee and Vanderbilt are not on that list. Also note that against two of those teams, Florida and Missouri, Kentucky scored 21 and 29 points respectively.
So knowing that the Tennessee defense is giving up 30 points per game and Vanderbilt almost 34 per game should help Lynn Bowden and Company be more productive on the offensive side of the ball while the Stoop’s patented defense continues to hold each opponent to that 16 point per game average they have achieved against Arkansas, Georgia and Missouri.
All-in-all it would be great to see the offense open it up a little but it seems like with Mark Stoops coached teams the offense and defense have to work hand-in-hand to win. The offense has to consistently run the ball and the clock and the defense has to make their opponents one dimensional – as they were able to do against both Georgia and Missouri by virtually eliminating their passing game.
So Saturday watch how Tennessee performs against UAB — who by the way is the eighth best defense in the country in points allowed per game at 15 — to see if the Volunteer’s improving offense can put up a lot of points against UAB. If not, that is a good sign for the Cats.
Either way it appears that once again Mark Stoops is showing that he earns his money by coaching defense and he only needs Eddie Gran’s offense to put up more than 16 points per game – and it seems like Lynn Bowden can do that by himself. Well, he does need a little help from the offensive line.