By LARRY VAUGHT
Does Lynn Bowden have confidence in his ability to throw the football or is he more comfortable just dropping back to throw and then taking off on scrambles?
That’s a question that was posed to Kentucky coach Mark Stoops Monday — two days after UK’s passing attack was non-existent again in a 17-13 loss to Tennessee.The Cats did run for 302 yards against Tennessee with Bowden, the former receiver, running the offense for the fourth straight game.
But the key word there is “running” and once Tennessee decided to overload the line of scrimmage with defenders, Kentucky could not get the ball into the end zone.
“It’s a tough balance there, truthfully, because Lynn really does have confidence in his throwing ability and wants to throw it, and probably at times wants to keep them more off balance and we do as well,” Stoops said.
“You watch that game, and part of it, they (Tennessee) didn’t necessarily play a lot like Missouri, where they (Missouri) just completely loaded the box. As I told you against Missouri I felt like there were definitely pass plays there, the weather (rain) dictated it and we were creating some explosive plays in the run game, so we didn’t have to go to it as much.
“Tennessee didn’t go to that extreme. They mixed it in and did a nice job, but again we created very explosive run plays, but they didn’t just wholesale put everybody up there to give us a greater opportunity to throw the ball.”
If Tennessee didn’t “put everybody up there” it sure looked like it Saturday night when UK still just passed for 25 yards on four completions.
“You have to see how teams play you, because those guys (Tennessee) have been covering good. A couple of those where we had some pass plays, it wasn’t like he had really free throws and there’s times where that takes a rhythm, it takes timing and it takes proper reads on the side,” Stoops said.
“He (Bowden) does a lot of things good. We just have to try and put him in the best position we can and predictable pass is not the best situation to be in. I will say that’s where we’ve done a really good job of keeping people off balance, when we are in third-and-medium.
“I want to say in this game, was it two or three, at least three third-and-longs, or two third-and-longs and at least one third-and-medium, keeping them off-balance in the run game, keep converting them, so at least with the threat of throwing them it keeps them off-balance there, so at least we are keeping them honest in that regard.”
The threat of throwing? Not really sure teams are worried about any “threat” of UK throwing with Bowden at quarterback. Bowden has rushed for over 600 yards in his four starts but has had little success throwing — and in fairness two games (Georgia and Missouri) were played in miserable, wet conditions.
Stoops doesn’t like the term “one-dimensional” used to describe UK’s offense with Bowden at quarterback, especially by those who were hoping Sawyer Smith would get into the game at quarterback to use his passing skills. However, Stoops said UK still should have beat the Vols.
“If you go through that game and you really study it and watch it and you look at the drives and the efficiency that we did have. It was extremely good. Now, with that being said, understanding that we have to cap off a few plays,” Stoops said. “But getting to that point, the efficiency was pretty darn good. So that is a tough balance right there.
“It’s a fair question and it’s hard to do. Put it like this, the last three drives –- nine plays, nine plays, 12 plays. You get that (last) one in, and I do that, (then it’s) something different.”
Stoops joked that those calling him a “complete idiot” because UK failed to score on two plays from the 2-yard line on the last possession would be singing his praises in many cases if the Cats had scored and won.
But why not give Smith a shot to jump start the offense when it is stalling if he really is “healthy and available” after suffering various undisclosed injuries earlier this season as Stoops has said he is several times?
“It is hard when you only have nine possessions in a game, it is a lot easier after the fact to say, ‘Hey, give Sawyer three series.’ But every play and every series is so important and again with Lynn we have been very effective and we’ve been moving the football,” Stoops said.
The UK coach said it was “hard” to go back to a throwing quarterback with a running offense installed for Bowden even though Bowden does run the “base offense” during the week along with Smith.
“So, if Lynn is not at quarterback, all of our players and the route running and everything is still there. A lot of the core of our offense is still there. Now, some of the unique plays built for Lynn are totally new,” Stoops said.
“It is hard. There’s no question. There’s no doubt about it. You have to continue to build to your strengths and what you feel give you the best opportunity to win.”
To me, that means Bowden will not only be the quarterback when UK plays at Vanderbilt Saturday but will also be the quarterback the last two games against UT-Martin and Louisville. Stoops likes an offense built on a ground game that controls the clock and a defense that can shut down opponents. Bowden fills that role for him and that’s why I think he stays at quarterback to hopefully get UK bowl eligible for a fourth straight year.